PBIS: Not just for elementary students

Last school year Mifflin County Junior High School implemented PBIS, a schoolwide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports Program.

Why implement a program that many associate with elementary schools at a junior high school? The answer lies in the premise behind PBIS that all students can benefit from well-implemented, evidence-based practices for improving student behavior.

Our mission at Mifflin County Junior High mirrors that concept in that we want to create and maintain an effective learning environment by establishing behavioral supports to achieve social, emotional and academic success. Our motto, Run With the PACK, reflects this mission.

Run with the PACK is an acronym for MCJH’s behavioral expectations: Be ResPonsible, Act SAfely, Have Character, MaKe a Difference. The main focus of PBIS at MCJH is to provide a clear system for expected behaviors. While many members of our school community have assumptions of what is expected behavior, we cannot assume that everyone’s beliefs are similar. Through PBIS, we work to create and maintain a productive, safe environment in which all MCJH community members (which includes faculty, staff, administrators, teachers and students) have clear expectations and understandings of their roles in the educational process. A large part of the implementation process revolves around soliciting input from the student body.

Student representatives are nominated by staff to serve on the MCJH student team which helps to plan PBIS activities, set behavioral goals, identify problem areas, brainstorm solutions and much more. Without student participation, the PBIS model is not successful.

Consequently, MCJH’s behavioral plan applies to students specifically while they are arriving to and departing from school and while they are in the halls and stairways, in the bathrooms and locker rooms, in classrooms and in the cafeteria. Student-produced videos model behavioral expectations in a variety of situations like waiting for the bus at departure time, walking between classes in the hallways, and getting lunch in the cafeteria to name a few. Rewards for appropriate behavior last year included watching teachers get a pie in their faces (bus behaviors), earning minutes of free time (cafeteria cleanliness), and earning PACK cash (hallway behavior) that was entered into drawings for gift certificates from local restaurants and businesses. Rewards are implemented based on the collaborative efforts and input of the PBIS teacher-student team.

Ultimately though, PBIS works due to its implementation — not due to its rewards. Behavioral expectations are taught to all students in the building in real contexts. Appropriate behaviors are acknowledged by everyone in the building and behavioral errors are corrected proactively. Moving from a punitive approach to behavior to a reinforcement-based approach boosts staff and student morale, increases attendance and time on task behavior and decreases problem behavior. This, in turn, may improve academic achievement.

Increasing academic achievement and fostering growth are primary goals of all schools. Research shows that one of the best ways to do that is to create a positive school climate. Implementing the PBIS model at Mifflin County Junior High helps us to do that. Our mission focuses on schoolwide behavior, but our ultimate hope is that every student and staff member is responsible, acts safely, has character and makes a difference well beyond the walls and time he or she spends at MCJH.

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Jennifer Macknair is the assistant principal at Mifflin County Junior High School.