Positive Behavior Program Yields Surprising Results

New school mascot may be motivating attendance and reading

Destiny Castillo (left) and Hailey Pereira with Charlie the giraffe, their new school mascot. Their Pre-K class developed the slogan for Charlie and is hosting him in their classroom as a reward for achieving the highest attendance for the week.

Destiny Castillo (left) and Hailey Pereira with Charlie the giraffe, their new school mascot. Their Pre-K class developed the slogan for Charlie and is hosting him in their classroom as a reward for achieving the highest attendance for the week.

Parents and educators of young children have learned that rewards can be a huge incentive in changing behavior. What if children could earn rewards that pay dividends for themselves and their classrooms?

The Safe and Caring School Committee at Charles Fortes Elementary School has introduced a new reward system for young students in PreK-1st grade who adhere to the tenets of their positive behavior code: be safe, respectful, ready to learn and responsible. The results have amazed school leaders as office discipline referrals have dropped to an all-time low.

Each time a staff member sees students demonstrating positive behavior, such as walking quietly in hallways or escorting a student to the nurse, they are rewarded with Charlie Dollars either individually or as a class. Those individual Charlie Dollars can be used to buy items such as small toys or school supplies from a portable school store that visits each classroom. The whole class dollars can be used to buy admission to a different performer scheduled each month.

Performers have included Tony the Dancing Cop, who taught about safety in the community; the Take Two Tandem Storytellers, who helped students to be ready to learn by singing different songs; and Mr. Deep Positivity, who taught that respect can make your dreams come true. In December, students earned Charlie Dollars to buy admission to a milk and cookies party while listening to a reading of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Consequently, office discipline referrals at Charles Fortes Elementary School have made an almost 100 percent turnaround.

In September 2013, there were 28 office referrals; this September, there were four. Last October, there were 58 office referrals for discipline, which dropped to two this year. There were no referrals for the month of November and only two for December. The total: 110 last year and only eight this year.

“Charlie Dollars are adding new energy that the positive behavior program didn’t have,” said Fortes Principal Lori Hughes. “Teachers have done a really good job in teaching students what being respectful and responsible means. When they hand out the Charlie Dollars, they’re explaining to students why they earned it. It’s more about rewording, developing positive language. We’re developing a culture of calmness, of everyone being on the same page. Students are more engaged because they want to be here.”

“We want school to be associated with a positive, fun, nurturing environment. If children learn to meet expectations at an early age it really helps to keep them involved and engaged in school,” said Rebecca Ciarcia-Haase, positive behavior (PBIS) program coordinator for Fortes.

Charlie the giraffe, the new school mascot chosen by students, has been a strong enhancement to the positive behavior program. The new slogan, Let’s Stretch Our Necks for Success and Do Our Best!, was created by Pre-K students in Diane Nault’s classroom.

The classrooms in each grade with the lowest absenteeism host one of the school’s three five-foot high Charlies in their room for the week. According to Shana Kennedy, Full Service Community Schools Coordinator for Fortes, Charlie has become a member of the Fortes family, with each class takes turns reading his favorite book, Giraffes Don’t Dance; a copy is in every classroom in the school.

The children always inquire about him, according to Alexander. They enjoy having him visit their classrooms and “reading” books to him.

“He gets kids excited about reading,” said Reading Coach Jeannie Maggiacomo. The positive behavior program is encouraging the children to develop pride in themselves and their school, she added, as well as control their own behavior. “We’re teaching them to be good citizens.”

Schoolwide positive behavior support was first introduced in Providence Schools in 2005 and is endorsed by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs. One of the goals of the program is to engage students proactively rather than reactively. School staff are encouraged to place more emphasis on students for doing the right thing rather than just focusing on inappropriate behavior. An important element of PBIS is using data based on office discipline referrals to help develop interventions.

According to Erin Moran, school psychologist at Esek Hopkins Middle School, 27 Providence middle and elementary schools practice under the Safe and Caring Schools’ model. Each school has a leadership team that oversees the program while the districtwide Safe and Caring Schools Leadership Team is comprised of four school psychologists and one social worker. The team provides training and technical support to schools.

Principal Hughes said that after seven years of positive behavior programs, the results have finally gelled at Fortes. “We were one of the first PBIS schools to be trained and now we are really seeing the benefits. Wherever you set the bar, children will meet it.”

School leaders say that students really understand the power of earning Charlie Dollars. “It helps with individual behavior and reinforces whole class behavior. Children are learning the importance of attending school and how to behave. They’re being rewarded and they feel better about their experience,” added Hughes.