Proactive approach

National student behavior initiative comes to Williston

Oct. 6, 2011

By Steven Frank

Observer staff

Williston Central School eighth-grader Jackie Casson drops ‘smart cells,’ collected from her class, into the school-wide canister last month. Through positive behavior and decision-making, WCS students have been earning smart cells and students at Allen Brook School have been earning ‘warm fuzzies.’ The schools are pooling the students’ collections to reach goals that earn rewards, such as 20 minutes of extra recess at WCS on Sept. 28. The strategy is part of a national system called ‘ Positive Behavior interventions and Supports’ that began in Williston schools this year. (Observer photo by Steven Frank)

Though not visible to the naked eye like a new wing or play structure, there is something new this year at the Allen Brook and Williston Central schools.

Positive Behavior interventions and Supports, commonly known as “PBiS,” is a national initiative focusing on the reduction of behavioral problems using proactive and preventative tactics.

PBiS is currently in 42 states, including 107 Vermont schools including Charlotte Central, Hinesburg Community and Richmond Elementary. According to WCS Planning Room Director Eric Arnzen, the Vermont Department of Education first approached the Williston School District in Aug. 2010 about utilizing PBiS. Steps toward adopting the program were announced last October, a leadership team formed, and both schools — in a vote from teachers and staff — overwhelmingly approved it in March.

PBiS’ implementation began with the current school year.

“It’s about teaching our students the behaviors that we want them to practice rather than teaching them what we don’t want them to do,” said Arnzen, who serves as WCS’ PBiS coordinator. “It’s purely a positive behavior program and focuses on that proactive nature of behavior — it explicitly teaches behavior and teaches a common language.”

WCS launched PBiS with a student assembly during the first week of school, decided on a school-wide celebration of extra recess and students immediately began working toward earning it. The students get items called “smart cells,” a small, marble-like stone, for practicing good behavior such as listening to their teachers. The cells are first collected as a class and then combined as a school in a container.

Enough cells were collected to reach the goal during the second week of school and the extra recess was celebrated on Sept. 28. According to WCS principal Jackie Parks, PBiS is uniting the students — often a challenge in a school that runs from grades 3 to 8.

“We’re dealing with so many different age groups and the different houses. This gives us a sense of oneness,” she said.

At ABS, students are collecting “warm fuzzies” for behaviors such as sitting quietly on the bus. The students, who range from kindergarten through second grade, earned enough fuzzies for a party in the gymnasium. Each class had a theme for which students made hats and paraded around during the party. The students also sang a school song.

The school has three expectations in regards to PBiS: “Be Safe, Be Kind and Be Responsible.” ABS reinforces the “Be” theme by collecting the school-wide warm fuzzies in a faux beehive.

Carolyn Tatlock, a school counselor at ABS, said that a vital component of PBiS is the usage of data to address student behaviors.

“When we see chronic behavior problems, it’s telling us that whatever we’re doing is not working,” Tatlock said. “A child needs clear expectations …we are looking at setting goals from a positive standpoint. Hopefully when one kid sees another one get rewarded, that will make that student want to be rewarded, too.”

Tatlock added that it usually takes three years for the entire faculty and staff of a school to be proficient in PBiS, but that she is already encouraged by what she’s seen in just its first month.

“I am so proud of what we’ve done,” she said. “We feel it’s age appropriate. The kids love it … It’s been a huge change for us.”