When Missi Cole first learned she’d be dean of students at Jemtegaard, she was apprehensive.
“I was a bit anxious,” she said. “It had a reputation for being a rough school in the district.”
Three years later, the middle school has changed, and for the better, according to Cole and Principal Ron Carlson.
“The referrals and calls to police (for more serious infractions) have cut down big time,” Cole said. “The parents have noticed a big change, too. The kids are more respectful, and the teachers are really good about talking things through with the students.”
This change is credited to a program known as Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports, or PBIS. It is a research based, school wide systems approach to help create safer and more effective schools. It includes school site procedures and processes intended for all students and staff in all settings. The process focuses on improving a school’s ability to teach expectations and support positive behavior.
Carlson first heard of the program after coming to Jemtegaard in 2009 and taking a team of staff members to a training session.
“The whole concept was to get teachers to buy in to the program, and to begin teaching the expected standards of behavior to students,” Carlson said. “We teach reading and math, why not behavior? Before PBIS, Jemtegaard was famous for some behavior problems.”
The first year, teachers learned about the program. In 2010, they began teaching it to students. Since then, academic scores have gone up and referrals, for infractions such as being disruptive in class or fighting, have been cut in half, from 3,500 per year to 1,600.
At the start of the school year, all students receive PBIS training. The three main components are to act safely, be respectful of others, and be responsible. Students seen demonstrating these behaviors or helping others with them receive yellow coupons, which allow them to be first in line, receive awards or skip waiting for the buses.
There are also regular raffle prize drawings. At the end of the semester, the top three students are given coupons for local eateries or activities. At the end of the year, the school gives out entire family dinners.
To further sweeten the deal, students who are non-disruptive and are passing all classes receive designated reward days.
Carlson said approximately 85 percent of the students are on board with the program, and another 13 percent will, “come over the fence.” He also acknowledges that there will always be a small percentage of those who don’t get it yet, but that number is shrinking.
“We’ve also heard from the high school that the kids we send them are much better behaved now,” Carlson said.
Zach Kettleson, Associated Student Body president, helps with PBIS training.
“The activities are fun to do,” he said. “To me, school is school. You go, learn and make friends. I’m always looking for ways to make it better and this was one way to do it.”
He said that as a sixth-grader, there was a feeling that the younger students didn’t matter much.
“Now, it’s changed a lot,” he said. “There’s not so much competition but a team effort.”
Eighth-grader Alyssa Barnett agreed.
“I was a troublemaker in sixth-grade,” she said. “Now, I’m friends with every teacher in school. I used to pick fights with people, but with PBIS, it’s put things more in perspective. I do what I need to do.”
Now, she’s vice-president of the Future Business Leaders of America and comes to the principal’s office to visit instead of with a referral.
“The positive reinforcement of (PBIS) has been beneficial to me,” she said. “It gives me something to look forward to, and to work toward.”