District introduces behavior-focused program

Terri Parks is a teacher at Oak Hills Elementary School who also serves as its PBIS Site Coach.
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As children returned for their first full week of school on Monday, school sites in the Newhall School District began implementing a new program that aims to restructure the ways teachers discipline and instruct their students.

Similar to this year’s wellness push in the Hart district, Newhall school leaders said the newly instituted Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports will help students achieve social, emotional and academic success by providing programs that support the whole child.

“Eight of the 10 schools in the Newhall district decided to begin training on PBIS last year,” said Wendy Maxwell, principal of Oak Hills Elementary School. Each Newhall district school site had a PBIS team composed of parents, teachers and administrators who created a specific set of expectations that compose a site’s system.

In the past, people came to school and expected students to know how to behave, “but similar to driving, swimming or riding a bike, you have to learn and practice before you do it correctly,” Maxwell said. “The same thing goes for behavior. If you don’t know how to behave, we’ll teach you.”

The new system is simply focusing on the needs of the kids, Maxwell said. This can make a difference in the social and emotional aspects of the child, because teachers rarely know what’s going on at home or how much students have to handle outside of school.

In the past, teachers might tell a child to stop running, but now they will say, “Walk please,” or “I love the way you’re walking right now,” Maxwell said.

Schools in the district will also be constantly revisiting their expectations in the classroom, whereas before, teachers would only cover the rules in the beginning of the year and after long vacations, Maxwell said. “It’s just like anything you’re teaching. You don’t teach somebody to read then walk away from it for three months.”

Oak Hills’ PBIS guidelines and behavior statement are tied to the phrase “HOWL” because the school’s mascot is a coyote, Maxwell said. “Each letter stands for a character trait that is important to our students’ success.”

H stands for “have respect,” O is “own your actions,” W is “work together” and L is for “listen attentively,” Maxwell said. “That’s the main focus for kids when they’re in the bathroom, hallway or classroom.”

Maxwell said the credit goes to the school’s PBIS team because they did a ton of groundwork, including organizing Monday’s assembly, which outlined the new expectations for students and served as their first monthly lesson.

Children enjoyed music, role-playing exercises and the return of Cody the Coyote, the school’s mascot, Maxwell said. Students also learned of the new reward opportunities that will be available to them this year.

When a teacher sees a child who continuously acts correctly, then that student will receive tickets that they can collect and spend at the PBIS store, which will be filled with pencils, trinkets and interesting items, Maxwell said. There will also be specific lessons for teachers to help students understand how they should act, along with fun activities like a gingerbread STEM opportunity, movie night and a picnic, and a “popsicles with the principal” event for those who HOWL.

Teachers will also be placed in a drawing, where they will have the chance for additional planning time, an extra recess or other benefits, Maxwell said. The rewards encourage everybody to buy into the program.

This is just year one of the implementation, Maxwell said. “We’re very excited about the program and the consistency it’ll bring to our school.”

“When children are in a good emotional state they’ll be attentive and ready to learn,” she added.

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