Positive Reinforcement Reigns in Jefferson Schools
A new program has helped students perform to the school's expected behavior.
Despite being in its inaugural year of existence, the Positive Behavior Support in Schools is already proving to be an effective program for students in the township, according to Carol Gargone, a math teacher at the middle school and a member of PBSIS' universal team.
"It is a wonderful program. We are in our first year of rolling it out to the students, but we are actually in our second year as a staff," Gargone said. "It's a broad range of systemic and individualized strategies for achieving important social and learning outcomes while preventing problem behavior."
PBSIS has already worked wonders for schools throughout the township. According to Gargone, bullying incidents are down in general.
"We went and looked at some data for October, November and December and we have had a decrease," she said. "Bus incidents are down 55%, cafeteria 68%, bathrooms 20% and the hallway down 26%. So we have seen some results even in that short amount of time."
Gargone said that the program is "sweeping the nation" and that PBSIS is in many schools across 44 states. In addition, some states have as much as an 80% buy-in to the program.
"Even though it's in all of these states and different schools, the program is not a cookie-cutter program," she said. "It is designed specifically for each school. Our program was designed specifically for Jefferson Township Middle School."
Gargone said that the universal team had a full year of training for the program. Then they started assessing their behavior and conduct priorities, and also conducted surveys with students, parents and staff.
"We had walk groups through the building and we determined where our areas of concern were," Gargone said. "Then we figured out ways to set up behavior expectations for our students for every part of the building. That was surveyed with the staff, it was not done by us for the school, the school participates in every aspect of the program."
The next step, Gargone said, was implementing a school-wide recognition system. How would each school go about rewarding the students who were behaving properly?
"If a student is seen doing the expected behavior they're given one of these," Gargone said. "It looks like a piece of paper, but if you see the face of someone when you give it to them, they're very excited. It's letting them know that you recognize their good behavior. You're bringing attention to the students that are doing what they're supposed to be doing.
According to Gargone, the slip of paper used as a reward goes into a drawing in the cafeteria.
"There's all sorts of prizes. We included the community; the PTA was extremely generous with their donations, local businesses all participated with prizes," Gargone said. "It's a large program, the students can get weekly drawings then whatever doesn't get picked goes into a monthly drawing, then we have marking period drawings, it's a great program and the kids are excited about it."
After that, the universal team went into its instructional event, where it had posters made with the behavior expectations.
"As a team and as a school, we [were thinking] what would be our over-arching expectations – what we wanted to be known for," Gargone said. "It was, 'we are respectable, accountable, positive students.'"
Finally it was time for the PBSIS kick off, which was, according to Gargone, "a fantastic event. The excitement, the enthusiasm, the school spirit, the guest speaker was fabulous, they did team-building exercises, there was a pep rally, we had a guest speaker [Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen] on bullying that you could have heard a pin drop in the room. He had such an impact on the students because he spoke about how he had a lisp and how he was bullied. They were totally amazed by his presentation."
Gargone said that, in her personal experience with PBSIS, it is possible to change students' behavior. To drive home her point, she finished with this anecdote.
"I had a student that was misbehaving in the hallway," she said. "One day he was running, the next day he slid down the banister. I spoke to him and the next day I waited and watched for him, and he walked perfectly down [the stairs]. I gave him one of these [piece of paper reward] and ever since I have never seen him run down the hall or slide down the banister. It works, that's all I have to say."
To learn more about PBSIS, including journals, presentations and videos, visit its website.