When Dallas-area student Chantal was just 8 years old, she faced a lot of trouble in school. A bright, compassionate kid diagnosed the year before with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, she would sometimes get uncomfortable–in confined spaces and with certain people–and it would lead to trouble. A school administrator restrained her once, when she tried to get out of his office. Her elementary school suspended her. A school resource officer even arrested her twice–once at age 10 and once at 11.
Chantal’s mother, Angela, wound up transferring her to a different school that practiced a different approach to handling tough situations. The approach was something called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). That long name represents a whole strategy for making schools safer–for children with special needs, kids with mental health challenges, kids who might sometimes find themselves the target of bullies or teachers with short fuses (and what child isn’t?). It isn’t a curriculum, but just an approach, a framework, that capitalizes on the good that all children are capable of. Its results range from improving academics schoolwide to keeping kids from acting out in class, and Angela noticed right away the difference it made for Chantal.
At the new school, all the kids know how to behave because teachers and staff make the school’s highest values part of every day discussions. Everyone, from the principal to the cafeteria workers and students themselves, reinforce the value system. Signs about it are posted on the walls and in classrooms, and kids know the rewards for trying and being their best. Chantal is now a model student, excelling far beyond her grade level. Her mom told me something that’s pretty hard to argue with: “Every child deserves the same chance my daughter has.”
These days, more of us have kids diagnosed with special needs, and even if we don’t, what parent isn’t concerned about issues like bullying and increasing unruliness at school? That’s why this PBIS approach is showing up as the answer in more and more schools. (My kindergartener, who starts school today, will benefit from it on her campus, and I’m so glad!) The research is strong that this really does work. By reinforcing good behavior instead of simply punishing bad, and also giving targeted help to the kids with persistent challenges at school, it cuts problem behaviors on campuses in half. PBIS is also linked to better grades, better attendance, and lots more students and teachers reporting they feel safe throughout the school day. All of this good happens, at little or no cost to our cash-strapped public schools, because the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs offers schools that do this extra support.
This fall, Texans Care for Children, where I work, is releasing a series of videos on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, with the goal of getting more parents talking about and even broaching this subject at their own schools. When that happens, every kid will have the chance Chantal did, to succeed and feel safe at school.
In this first roughly 2-minute video, we talked to two kids at very similar Austin-area schools. One school is a “PBIS school,” committed to following the framework–and it’s surprising to hear what a difference the child who attended that school and another one notices. Here’s that first video (I’ll post future ones to LiveMom’s Facebook page):
Are you worried about kids acting out at your child’s school? Have you seen anything to indicate your school is trying the PBIS approach? Would you ever consider talking to someone in the administration about giving it a try?
Written by: Christine Sinatra