Eight schools in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District are being recognized for positive school climates that help students and teachers alike display model behavior.
This month, the Minnesota Department of Education awarded exemplar status to Gideon Pond, Harriet Bishop, Hidden Valley, M.W. Savage, Edward Neill, Sioux Trail, and Sky Oaks elementary schools and Eagle Ridge Middle School for their use of positive behavioral interventions and supports in 2018-19. Interventions include teaching positive behaviors and supporting students’ social and emotional needs.
“The broad purpose of PBIS is to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and equity of schools,” a statement on PBIS Minnesota’s website said. “PBIS improves social, emotional and academic outcomes for all students, including students with disabilities and students from underrepresented groups.”
A National Center for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports was established through a grant in the re-authorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1997. The ongoing PBIS research and training around the country is supported through state and federal grants.
Erika Nesvig, principal at Eagle Ridge, said school staff worked to revamp their behavioral supports and policies this year. Office referrals are down 25 percent compared to this same time last year, and suspensions are down 60 percent.
Students can earn tickets for positive behaviors such as answering a question in class or working well in a group. Tickets can be redeemed for things such as extra recreational time or sitting in the teacher’s chair.
“The biggest thing is we are just working on listening to our students,” she said.
Nesvig said the core of the intervention program is that students are given clearly defined behavioral expectations and staff agree on what these expectations are. Staff began during the spring and summer months to create those expectations.
“They are really the ones to commend for this recognition,” she said about the teachers.
There’s also a plan in place to address behavioral issues when a student isn’t meeting expectations. Students may meet with a social worker or counselor to determine underlying causes of behavioral issues and determine a plan to provide the student additional support.
“We’ve had a huge reduction in suspensions, which is a big success, but more than that we’ve had very few students have repeated suspensions,” Nesvig said.
Lori Nunez is a parent of a second grade student at Hidden Valley Elementary and the president of the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization.
She said the positive reinforcement isn’t just about the students, but the teachers as well.
Raising money to be spent on gift cards for teachers is one of the ways the PTO and administration work together to support the PBIS initiates.
“It helps everybody,” Nunez said.
Within the schools, acronyms are used to help students understand expectations. At Hidden Valley, SOAR stands for safe, on-task, always responsible and respectful.
Similar to Eagle Ridge, teachers at Hidden Valley pass out SOAR tickets when students model good behavior and the class can later redeem tickets for things such as a class party or extra recess time.
“It’s the little things,” Nunez said.