For York Academy, it's about the dos, not the don'ts

Alyssa Jackson
  • York Academy has implemented PBIS, a national program related to student behavior
  • PBIS focuses on what students should do rather than what they shouldn't in different areas of the school
  • The goal is to create clear expectations for all students

School can be confusing for students when expectations aren't clear and when they are bombarded with negative instructions rather than positive instructions. That's why York Academy Regional Charter School has implemented PBIS, or Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

York Academy fifth-grader Helena Lyons licks her finger after frosting a cake as a reward in the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports Program on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016. Individual students and entire classrooms earn credits for positive behaviors in the program. The class won the sweet-making after completing a thematic unit on science. They got to eat the cakes they decorated as plant and animal cells. Bill Kalina photo

The program works well with the school's International Baccalaureate expectations, which aim to modify student behavior in and out of the classroom, according to Dean of Students David Goodwin.

PBIS is a nationwide program, but it is new to York Academy this year. According to the program's website, the goal is to implement preventive and responsive approaches to improve student behavior. A PBIS team was created at York Academy to help incorporate the program into the school.

York Academy first-graders react after learning their reward as part of a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports Program on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016. They are, from left, Aliana Alicea, Kennara Ramos, Jeremy Beatty and Yuleidi Suero-Garcia. Individual students and entire classrooms earn credits for positive behaviors in the program. The class won use of iPads and popsicles. Bill Kalina photo

"It really does strive to build consistency, and that’s a big thing," Goodwin said. "This is an expectation for every student, regardless of if they’re new to the building, regardless of if they’re in kindergarten or seventh grade."

Setting expectations: Making the expectations uniform across the school was an important part of implementing PBIS, Goodwin said. All students are expected to work toward the expectations outlined for them by the teachers. Students also work to create these expectations through "essential agreements."

Essential agreements are worked on between teachers and their students at the beginning of the year and allow the students to have a hand in creating the expectations they will be challenged to meet throughout the year, according to Keri Schmid, a second-grade teacher and a lead on the school's PBIS team.

The PBIS team worked hard to ensure that all language was the same throughout the school, so when an art teacher talks to a student about behavior, that teacher is using the same words that Schmid and Goodwin would use.

"We have been trying to build a sense of  community and pride in our students at York Academy, and having uniform expectations allows us to do that because they understand the language that we’re saying, and they want to rise to meet those expectations rather than just be complacent," Schmid said. "This is a way to show them that there are better choices for them to make."

The expectations for PBIS are linked closely with the language and expectations used by the IB program. The two programs create expectations of how students should behave in different settings, such as flushing the toilet in the bathroom or staying in their place in line at the cafeteria. The expectations extend into the community as well, challenging students to be good representatives of the school.

To enforce this, the school did "expectation stations" with the students. Teachers taught about the expectations in their respective classrooms, while administrators spoke with and did activities with small groups of students at places around the school, such as in hallways, on the playground and in the cafeteria. Goodwin said the goal was to incorporate nearly everyone in the school to show uniformity.

Making the expectations clear from day one helps students clearly know what they should be doing.

"If I give you a target and turn it around backward, how can you hit it?" Goodwin asked, using a target as a metaphor for behavior expectations. "We put the target right out there and state the steps to hit that target."

Positivity: Schmid said expectations are stated in a positive manner, which is important to get through to the kids. For example, instead of telling students not to run in the halls, they talk about how walking through the halls can make them a more respectful student and classmate. Goodwin said that the positive statements help draw students in who might be more apt to tune out a lecture or the "don't do this" discussions that children often hear.

York Academy fifth-grader Ja'Lasha Jones waits to wash her hands after frosting a cake as a reward in the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports Program on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016. Bill Kalina photo

Students also get positive affirmations when teachers and administrators see them living up to the IB and PBIS expectations. Schmid explained that individual students can earn PRO points, which are different colored poker chips. PRO stands for principled, respectful and open minded, and it is a part of the school's IB program. When students are doing something wrong, teachers ask them if they are being a PRO and give students the opportunity to reflect on their choices.

When the kids are doing things well, though, they have the opportunity to get and save up their PRO points. About once a month the students can cash in their points for prizes, which Goodwin said are typically "experience" prizes rather than a cheap toy. For example, 350 points could allow a student to play basketball with a friend, while for 500 points they can pie a teacher in the face. Goodman said he's seen many students save up their points to do something academic, such as go into a younger classroom and read to the students.

Additionally, entire classes can earn "Knights," which is a play on the school's mascot. When an entire classroom is behaving well,, the class can be given a Knight by any teacher. If the class reaches 15 Knights in the first trimester, they can pick a prize, such as watching a movie during lunch. Throughout the year, students must earn more Knights each trimester to get a prize.

The positive wording and affirmation keep students wanting to do good things and grow in their character, rather than simply trying to avoid the bad things that they might do, Goodwin said.

"It’s about looking for growth and those exemplars and recognizing them in a public way that keeps students engaged," he said. "On every level, but especially children, it’s more comforting to hear what looks right as opposed to what we shouldn’t do."