By Debbie Hall
Students attending Meadows of Dan Elementary School have not had a demerit in three years, according to Jason Wood, the principal there.
Wood attributes that feat to the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS), a program that aims to create positive school environments that support the needs of students and staff.
“It started with just a change in philosophy. We learn a lot as we go and changed things as we went,” Wood said, and explained that instead of handing out consequences, students are rewarded with positive interventions.
Participating students are rewarded with Cardinal Cash for things like being prepared, respectful, having integrity, self-discipline, and showing excellence in the school, Wood said. The ‘cash’ can be spent in the Cardinal Store or saved for things like using Wood’s office chair or putting a pie in his face.
“It’s really helped our school culture. We’re having fun and learning and that’s what is important. We do it for the kids, so that they enjoy school,” he said. “Our attendance rates are high. I think this is the reason. It’s all about positive stuff. We have great students and no discipline problems.”
Wood and two students attended a recent school board meeting. The students – Eli Wood and Mariah King – both said they enjoy the program.
Acting Superintendent J. David Martin said the PBIS program exists in all county schools, except for the Patrick County High School. The program is modeled after the Ron Clark Academy, a nonprofit middle school in Atlanta, Ga. and “is to promote positive behaviors in students.”
PBIS was implemented “in just a little bit different way in each school because each community is a little bit different,” Andrea Cassell, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, said. “We worked with the leadership teams at schools to look at the best way to support students and how to be positive.”
She explained that while there are similarities in the programs at each school, each has “a little different twist,” and essentially is tailor-made for the individual school.
At Hardin Reynolds Memorial School (HRMS), students are assigned to one of four different ‘houses,’ Martin said of Altruismo, Amistad, Isibindi and Reveur.
He explained that students are assigned to the houses randomly and not by grade level.
“You put students from every grade level in a house because you want kids to know each other across the school,” Martin said, and added that houses are used because they are part of the education system in England.
The names of the houses also have different meanings, according to Martin and Kensie Woods, principal at HRMS.
For instance, Altruismo means “Giver,” Amistad means “Friendship,” Isibindi means “Courage” and Reveur means “Dreamer,” as explained by several HRMS students at a recent school board meeting.
Martin said he has had a couple of concerns about the program at HRMS – primarily about the names of the houses and the spirit animal assigned to each.
“The one concern was that animals, like the spirit of the wolf, a unicorn, peacock or a dragon, were things that may indicate some sort of negative spirituality,” Martin said. “Certainly, that was never the intent” of the program. “There is not a real emphasis on the animals. It’s all about behavior.
“Another concern was the name of one of the houses,” Martin said of Amistad. He explained that a slave ship bore the same name, and “that caused some concern from this individual. We met with the principal together, and decided to make this an educational experience for the students.”
Each group or house of students researched the history of their group names, and listed the pros and cons of each, Martin said, adding the name, Amistad, means friendship. Students also learned that the slaves transported on La Amistad rebelled and took control of the ship from their captors.
“The kids did their research” and then were asked to complete an online survey to keep their name or change it, he said, adding that students elected to keep the name.
Brandon Simmons, chairman of the Patrick County School Board, said he also had a couple of calls about the program. The callers were directed to call Martin, he said.
Simmons also followed up on those concerns, asking questions both at a recent meeting and also with school personnel and others in the community.
“The more I asked people, I found out that there were very few people that talked to me that didn’t like it. The majority that I’ve talked to like the program,” Simmons said.
At HRMS, because “it is older students, this is a way for them to express themselves. They have house meetings on Fridays. I think last week, all of the houses talked about responsibility as a character trait and how they could get that throughout the school,” Martin said.
Groups also earn points in what he described as a “friendly competition. If you walk into the building, you will see the house names and the point values” on a TV screen, Martin said. The numbers change several times throughout each day to show which house is ahead.
The program “promotes positive behaviors in kids,” Martin said. ”The program is designed to celebrate good behavior in school. I think it’s doing great things for kids.”
At a recent meeting, the school board:
Heard from Meadows of Dan and HRMS students who participate in the program. All said they enjoy the program.
Approved the formation of a Diversity Club, which is designed “to attract a broad range of the student body … welcomes students and their allies who support tolerance and understanding of different races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities, mental and physical disabilities, and any other difference that sets them apart from the majority.”
Before the vote, Nelson McConnell, a retired teacher, said that while watching TV, a speaker pointed out that the country has become polarized in its beliefs.
“One side won’t talk to the other; there is no middle ground, medium, compromise,” McConnell said. “The whole purpose of the Diversity Club is to establish middle ground, give voice to the people who don’t have one.”