Jamaica Gleaner / Nowadays, there are new motivators and mantras at the Maxfield Park Primary School on Langard Avenue in East Central St Andrew.
When students assemble for daily devotion, they are encouraged to be eagles and soar.
They sing about ‘moving up’ to greater levels of success. Throughout the day, both inside and outside of the school, they are guided by a set of core values – being safe, responsible and respectful.
Behaviour based on those values is routinely rewarded – not just by teachers, but everyone from the security guards and ancillary staff to the vendors outside the school gate.
Beverley Gallimore-Vernon has been leading the shift in behaviour at the school since she became principal a little over one year ago, and much of her success is attributable to the school-wide positive behaviour intervention and support (SWPBIS) programme that the school has been piloting under the guidance of the Ministry of Education.
Spearheaded by the Guidance and Counselling Unit, SWPBIS, which is funded by UNICEF, is being tested in close to 60 schools across the island.
The changes at Maxfield Park Primary are remarkable. Over the last year, the school has recorded a reduction in fighting among students, as well as improvements in both academic performance and attendance.
“When I came here, almost every day parents or police were here because the students were having so many fights,” said Gallimore-Vernon.
“That has improved significantly. People used to associate bad behaviour with Maxfield Park, but now we are seeing more people come to register their children here.”
Gallimore-Vernon is challenging her students to abandon the notion that schools in the inner city are limited by their location.
soaring “We try to motivate the students to say no matter what you hear about schools in this area, at Maxfield Park we are moving up. We are soaring and we are not to settle for the place that persons might put us in. We need to soar above where people see us,” said Gilmore-Vernon.
At Maxfield Park Primary, the SWPBIS coordinating team is composed of the principal, guidance counsellor, the physical education teacher, a cook and representatives of the school’s Disciplinary Committee and Parent-Teacher Association.
“After the team was set up, we looked at the SWPBIS guidelines to see what we thought our school needed to move from one point to the next,” said Karen White-Samuels, a guidance counsellor who has been with the school for 10 years.
“Based on the background our children are coming from, they lack certain things like the level of respect they should have. They do not always own up to things they do and they play pretty rough. Fights were also a big issue,” added White-Samuels.
The team decided that three core values could impact all these challenges – safety, responsibility and respect.
As recommended by SWPBIS, the Maxfield Park children devised a matrix to promote and embed these values in all areas of school life – at devotion, in the classrooms, the hallways, the bathrooms and on the streets outside of the school. They came up with a song, ‘Be SRR’, which students sing every day.
They also created two reward initiatives that work together to incentivise positive behaviour – ‘Gotcha’ and the token system.
“Gotcha is not what you would normally think – it is when children are caught doing something good,” says the PE teacher Marlon Richards.
“When this happens, the child is acknowledged at devotion and earns a token. Anyone who notices good behaviour can give you a token. The janitor can give you a token for being safe, respectful and responsible. The security guard at the gate can give you a token if he sees behaviour that’s deemed rewardable. You can also earn tokens for forming lines and being an early bird to school,” added Richards.
Once students earn five regular tokens, they earn a green token – which can be redeemed for books, pencils, sharpeners and other small items at the guidance counsellor’s office.
When students have 10 tokens, they get a pink token which leads to a sweet treat, such as ice cream. Students hand over the tokens they earn to any of the SWPBIS team members to be recorded.
Implementation of the SWPBIS approach has not always been smooth, and the school still has hurdles to overcome – but the team is pleased with the progress so far, particularly the evidence that is logged in monthly behavioural records.
“We are seeing changes, especially with ‘Gotcha’ – because everybody wants to be caught doing something good,” said Richards.
Gallimore-Vernon points to a set of students who were posing major behavioural challenges. “These students were outside all the time, they were in fights – they were part of the reason parents were saying ‘I don’t want my children at Maxfield Park’.
“It was a daily task. Since SWPBIS, we have not had one incident with them. This is because of the reinforcement every day – showing what good behaviour looks like and the constant reminders of things that they can work towards achieving,” said Gallimore Vernon.
She noted that the vendors outside the school gate are also part of the transformation process.
“They do not serve our students after 7:30 when school begins. They are our eyes and ears outside the school,” said Gallimore-Vernon as one vendor, Petrona Hamilton, declared that she wants to see the day when Maxfield Park Primary again turns out top GSAT students.
How the SWPBIS works
At the heart of the school-wide positive behaviour intervention and support (SWPBIS) programme are three main expectations – methods to promote positive values and avoid harsh punitive measures can lead to positive changes in behaviour; the entire school needs to get involved in this effort; and there has to be data collected along the way to see if the attempts are working.
Since SWPBIS is a framework built on principles – not a prescriptive set of interventions – schools can experiment with different ways of meeting these expectations.
SWPBIS operates on three tiers – in tier one, efforts are school-wide and aim to support all students; tiers two and three target smaller groups of children who need closer and more structured support. Many of the schools piloting SWPBIS are now moving into tier two.