A new form of discipline

FILE PHOTO: Kids sit close to a counselor during an activity teaching kindness at Saugus High School's Students Matter Club's Sunshine Day Camp at Stevenson Ranch Elementary School on Friday, April 7, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

School districts throughout the state are slowly moving away from harsh discipline measures like time-outs and suspensions to opt for alternative methods of behavioral instruction.

In the Saugus Union School District, staff and teachers are working to fully implement a program called Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS) in classrooms and on school grounds.

“It’s for all students and it’s a multi-tiered system to provide behavioral support to all students,” said Diane D’Elia, the Saugus District’s director of student support services.  “The idea behind PBIS is ‘let’s model appropriate behavior for everyone and make sure the kids know what is expected of them.’”

Developed by the U.S. Department of Education, PBIS improves behavior by teaching students about behavior expectations, rewarding appropriate behavior and identifying behavior issues through data.

The three-tiered program also requires school districts to implement targeted intervention techniques—like partnerships with outside agencies, meetings with school-based counselors and collaboration with family members—for students who need extra support.

“The first tier, that basic foundation, is for everyone,” D’Elia said.  “Tier 2 is a more targeted intervention and we would expect about 20 percent of students would need that extra support.  Tier 3 is the most intensive behavioral support and that would be about 5 percent of the population.”

Students learn their expectations in common areas and classrooms by memorizing three to five simple rules and instructions.  These easy-to-read expectations are then posted on school walls, recited in class, modeled by adults and reinforced through rewards.

In the Saugus District, each school is given the freedom to determine what their expectations will be based on the culture of the school site and the needs of the students.

“It’s all encompassing for the campus,” D’Elia said.  “The schools determine what the behavioral expectations will be and then they determine what it will look like and what they want the posters to say.”

Rewards for good behavior range from bringing a stuffed animal to school to playing music at break and eating lunch with a teacher.

Overall, it takes school districts approximately three to five years to complete training and fully implement the research-based program.

Reasons for implementation

Currently, the Saugus Union School District is the only district in the Santa Clarita Valley to begin implementing PBIS into its district standards (the Newhall School District is expected to implement the program during the 2017-18 school year).

Four years ago the school district began thinking of new methods of discipline to help combat its increasing suspension rates.

After attending a training session at the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE), D’Elia knew PBIS was the progressive discipline solution.

“I saw this as a really great opportunity as a district to help support the concerns being expressed by teachers, parents, administrators about the increasingly disruptive behaviors they were seeing in the classroom,” D’Elia said.  “What really drew me to it is the fact that it’s common sense…  If you focus more on the positive then the child is more likely to repeat that behavior.”

The district also liked how the program collected data to track the reasons for behavioral problems and the impact of each solution used.

“Schools that are implementing PBIS are seeing a positive impact on the kids with fewer referrals to the office, fewer disruptions in the classroom,” D’Elia said.

PBIS at school sites

Cedarcreek Elementary School was one of the first to introduce the program to its students by teaching them four R.O.A.R. expectations: Respect self and others, Own actions, Act safely and Responsibility.

Using these four expectations, the school created a behavior matrix to chart and explain what expectations are in places like the restroom and playground.

“Before we were expecting them to know how to behave and now it’s about really teaching up what the expectation is,” Principal Robyn Payre said.  “With punishment you really never saw a difference and now we see the difference and they can even talk to each other about it.”

At Tesoro Del Valle Elementary School students also follow their school’s own version of ROAR (Respect ourselves and others, Own our actions, Act safely and Ready to learn) and recite the school’s new slogan, “Tigers Lead With a ROAR.”

Principal Dianne Saunders said the school outlined expectations for each area of the campus, informed parents of the expectations with a newsletter and at Back to School nights, and created fun videos to teach students about ROAR.

“I love the emphasis on teaching and re-teaching the behavioral expectations we want to see at our school,” Saunders said.  “By focusing on the behaviors we want to see and rewarding those, we shift the focus from punishment to learning from our mistakes and making good choices in the future.”

Both elementary schools use a ticket system—with “ROAR tickets” at Cedarcreek and “Tiger Tickets” at Tesoro—for students to gather and use for prizes.

With these tickets, students can earn free recess, front-of-the-line lunch passes and awards at assemblies.

The PBIS data has also allowed the schools to track behavior by day, time, place, type and grade and reduce the overall referrals to the administrative office.

“With the data we have now, we can identify problem areas and provide intervention and positive reinforcement,” Saunders said.  “We have seen a decrease in the number of daily referrals to the office.”

In the upcoming years, Payre hopes to implement videos into student education and involve parents in the lessons of ROAR during a parent night.

“If we’re all speaking the same language, students are really going to understand what the expectations are,” she said.  “I’m super excited to see what next year brings since this was our first year and we’re just getting started.”

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