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Farmington Schools' Positive Behavior Program Teaches, Reinforces

Educators say the move toward creating a system of support improves student behavior.

Julie Kaminski notices it in the halls at . 

Pam Green sees fewer students in her office at . 

Both principals say a Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS) program implemented several years ago in all is working with their students. PBIS coordinator and Principal Steve Vercellino said that while each school builds its program around different values, they all have common themes that include respect, caring, responsibility and honesty.

"The foundation is: We need to teach expected behavior and then do assessments," he said. "It's not really a program, it's a philosophy. It's changing how we speak to kids. It's telling them what you want to see."

That means saying "please walk" instead of "don't run," he explained.

Green, now in her second year at Hillside, initially met with a school team to talk about areas in the school where behavior is a concern and what team members wanted those areas to look like. "It came down to safety," she said. "We had numerous lists. We spent a good year honing it down." 

"Just creating that — what do the values look like — is a learning process for the staff," Vercellino said. 

The key is to come up with very specific goals, which are then communicated — and reinforced — with students, he added. Everyone buys in, from administrators to teachers to paraprofessionals and even noninstructional staff, such as custodians. 

P.E.A.K. at FHS

Farmington High School has adopted a theme called P.E.A.K.: Prepared, Engaged, Accepting and Kind. It's a reference to a mountain peak, Kaminski said, because the school's mascot is the falcon, and "falcons make their nests on mountains." 

While it might seem silly to think that high school students would need a reminder about something as simple as how to walk in a hallway, "we find the more we can articulate up front, the better we are at getting that behavior out of our students," she said.

Students have been involved with developing Farmington's PBIS program. In fact, results from student surveys determined the program's goal in its first year: to improve conditions in hallways at passing time. Once the goal was set, then the PBIS team had to decide what the P.E.A.K. values would look like in the hallway. 

Kaminski said posting a person in the middle of the intersection where two main halls crossed helped calm the traffic. The team also created a video with teachers who showed what good and bad passing behavior looked like. 

"It's really funny," she said of the video. "The kids really loved it. We consistently show that at the beginning of every trimester." 

That reinforcement is bolstered by a reward system. Students earn P.E.A.K. tickets for positive behavior, and those can be entered in a drawing for privileges such as parking out front, a lunch line pass or being an office or event helper — "Things that don't cost a lot of money, but that kids value," Kaminski said.

PAWS tickets reward Hillside kids

At Hillside, students earn tickets when they're caught doing the right thing within the Hillside Huskies' PAWS behavior expectations: Practice respect, Act responsibly, Work together, Safety matters. Green said the rewards for accumulating tickets may be a popcorn or sledding party for a class or a more tangible reward for an individual child. 

Rewards provide daily opportunities to teach and reteach the school's values, Vercellino said. Green said those opportunities also arise when a student is referred to her because of a disciplinary problem. 

The district plans a greater outreach to parents this year. The new expectations have been shared at PTA meetings and in direct communications with parents. The district hopes to have each school's PBIS information on each school's website by the end of the school year.

Parents have been supportive of the program, and some have said they're adopting it at home. Vercellino said PBIS transfers well, as parents "really explain to kids what you want to see and why. If you want kids to have their room a certain way, you have to teach and model that for them, show them how you want their room to look ... and then (acknowledge their efforts)."

"We need to catch kids doing what we want them to do," he said. "That's the mind frame of positive support." 

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