Merced schools program teaches elementary students positive behavior

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comJuly 14, 2013 

Ada Givens Elementary School students are expected to be respectful, responsible and ready to learn.

Givens School and all other campuses in the Merced City School District are taking part in Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, a program designed to improve student behavior.

Dalinda Saich, Givens School principal, said her campus received a Bronze Level award from the Fresno County Office of Education for its participation. She said the Givens staff is proud of steady progress and understands behavior is ever-changing, a work in progress.

"We still have behavior issues but less than in the past," Saich said, "and clarity regarding how to deal with the issues and what is minor versus major has increased. The philosophy has changed to teach behavior rather than react to it."

Jessica Deal, a first-grade teacher who has been at Givens School for a dozen years, praises the program's results.

"I do think it helps," Deal said. "We are all on the same page, with the same expectations for all children. The same set of rules apply to everyone."

There are five simple rules: Be prepared to learn; be respectful of yourself and others and the school; keep your hands, feet and objects to yourself; play safely; and talk to teachers if you need help, Deal said.

This spring Givens School had 518 students and a staff of 55 including preschool, support staff and yard-duty supervisors, Saich said.

Students received a little booklet pinpointing each area of the school. The expected behaviors are included and reviewed in detail by the staff members who work in those areas.

"For example, the cafeteria manager and yard-duty supervisor explain and students get initials at each location showing that they've 'been there' — thus they understand that rule. It's a lot like a travel passport.

"We do the walk with a structured schedule schoolwide at the beginning of the year and everyone is involved — custodians, office staff, yard supervisors, teachers and psychologists," Saich said.

Jason Freeman, a district psychologist assigned to Givens, Stowell and Charles Wright elementary schools, said it's a great program. He said student referrals to the office have gone down.

"We organize the behavior and momentum of a school," Freeman said. "There is the same vocabulary for all children and the expectations are known."

Annie Dossetti, assistant superintendent for education, praised the program — adding that it fosters a team effort.

"It's absolutely wonderful," Dossetti said. "It brings positive behavior to the forefront. All school sites are implementing PBIS and are at different stages. The goal for all schools is to be at the gold level."

And there's more being done to improve student behavior. A DVD showing student-teacher behavior is shown each year. There is a Game Club, Social Skills groups, check-in check-out systems, Chess Club, Study Hall and the Mighty Mustang Club, which stresses anti-bullying.

Saich said the goal for the next school year is to improve efforts working with at-risk students, apply for a Silver Award and include a parent component.

Students are getting a better understanding of what bullying really is and how it affects others, Saich said. Students also know they need to report issues before they become a problem.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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