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Schools see 'positive' results from new behavior program

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM How many times in the life of a student has he or she been scolded for bad behavior? How many times has he or she been praised for good behavior? The former certainly outweighs the latter, according to public school officials.

In an effort to promote good behavior and decrease class disruptions, internal and external suspensions and other behavioral problems, Agawam Public Schools has launched a pilot behavioral modification program this year called Positive Behavior Interventions Supports (PBIS) at three schools.

Working in conjunction with the May Institute the regional partner to the National Technical Assistance Center on PBIS, established by the United States Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs Agawam Public Schools has formulated a "common language" for proper behavior, a rewards system for students and a new database for behavioral and incident referrals.

"It's quite a switch from calling attention to bad behaviors," Donna Mendonca, PBIS Team Coach for Robinson Park School, and the school's adjustment counselor, said.

She explained that at the beginning of the year "mini lessons" detailed model playground, bathroom, classroom, school bus and hallway behaviors for students. The students at Robinson Park School have been asked to adopt three school rules or "The R.P.S. Way: Be Responsible. Be Polite. Be Safe."

Each time the student demonstrates exceptional behaviors they are rewarded with a "blue ticket," which is put in a weekly classroom and school prize drawings, Mendonca added. At the end of each month, tickets are collected for a "community meeting" where the entire school meets to discuss behaviors and reward prizes for each grade level.

Mendonca explained that prior to PBIS, office referrals were not well documented; however, this system requires that each referral is entered into a database detailing the student's name, location of the incident and category of behavior. She said that this allows teachers and administrators to "make data-driven decisions" about where to deploy additional staff or where a more structured environment is needed.

Marc Costanzi, principal of Agawam Middle School, said he has experienced a dramatic positive change in overall student behavior since the inception of PBIS. Students at this school have been asked to model three specific school rules: "Be respectful. Be responsible. Be safe." Costanzi said the students are also granted rewards similar to those at Robinson Park, called "AIMS tickets."

"We tried to keep it as simple as possible and it was really neat recognizing proper behavior rather than poor behavior," Costanzi said. "As a principal I felt like a movie star because every morning [I received a] 'Good morning Mr. Costanzi' [from students as a way] to [exhibit] respectful [behavior]. It [the change in the school's environment] was noticeable and there were so many kids taking the time to smile."

The overall success of the program at Clifford Granger Elementary School, Robinson Park Elementary School and Agawam Middle School, has prompted its expansion into the Benjamin Phelps Elementary School and James Clark Elementary School next year, according to Superintendent Mary Czajkowski.

Sandra Howard, principal of James Clark Elementary School, said she welcomes PBIS after a 2007-08 school year where she has "had more discipline issues this year than any other year [in her 14 years as principal]."

Howard explained that at the beginning of each school year students at the school are sent a respect code that they must review with their parents and sign. She said the code has worked well until recently.

"We have been very effective until this year and I can't tell you what has changed that," Howard said. "Maybe it's a perfect time for us to go on the district [PBIS] system."

She noted that this year alone there have been 10 behavior issues that have led to an internal or external suspension. Howard added that she's only seen 10 in her whole career. She explained that the majority of the behavioral problems occur from bullying or physical arguments at recess.

Czajkowski said she has been impressed by the success of PBIS and also of each student's strong grasp of its concepts. She explained that during a visit to Clifford Granger Elementary School last week she asked students to tell her their school rules and examples of proper behaviors to which they all answered correctly.

"Kids have found that it provides a common language for the schools and teachers," Czajkowski said. "They are exhibiting more positive types of behaviors."