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With $575,000 from feds, CSAT replaces stick with carrots

Teachers and students at the Charter School for Applied Technologies for years followed the same discipline system used in many school systems: Teachers set rules, and students followed them. Or else.

But educators at CSAT and elsewhere eventually found the tough approach fails to reach some students, especially those with underlying issues that affect behavior.

So now, the school wants to revamp its approach by reinforcing positive behaviors instead of penalizing negative ones. The school received a three-year $575,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to train teachers in the model known as Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support and hire additional guidance counselors and social workers to help with the process.

“In any population, you’re going to have kids who don’t respond to the overall behavior management system,” said Garrick Loveria, director of student services at the school. “So what are you going to do for those kids to get them to respond? It’s a huge shift because so much of what schools do is focus on the negative.”

The model has become increasingly common in public schools, particularly as educators gain a growing awareness of the underlying issues that can affect a student’s behavior. That includes things they might be dealing with at home or in their communities.

The idea is to use rewards to encourage them to exhibit positive behavior, rather than punish them for disobeying the rules.

Counselors at the Kenmore Avenue school recognized the need for such a program several years ago and started looking for ways to implement it in their classrooms. The school started by training a core team of teachers to lead an experimental roll out this year.

The team planned schoolwide efforts to introduce teachers and students to the concept. For example, one week staff targeted behavior in a notorious trouble spot: the lunchroom. Students who showed good behavior earned reward tickets that could later be redeemed for prizes or entered into a drawing.

Teachers, too, were recognized for trying out the model, with raffles for prime spots in the parking lot.

“What we saw was a really good uptick in positive behaviors,” Loveria said. “We’re really used to using deterrents for kids, punitive measures.”

The grant will support the addition of two school counselors, training costs, and maintaining an early intervention program.

It will be used over a three-year period to help the school’s 862 K-5 students through strategies, aimed at increasing academic achievement and school safety and decreasing problem behavior while also promoting a positive school culture.

“These federal funds are essential to CSAT designing a behavior system that works for everyone: staff, students and our families,” said Superintendent J. Efrain Martinez. “Our goal is to continuously improve and sustain attendance rates and overall academic achievement. We are thankful we have the opportunity to implement this program.”

CSAT is the largest charter school in New York State, with 1,940 students in grades K-12, and plans to add an additional 415 students over the next five years.

Over 80 percent of its students come from the City of Buffalo, with 83 percent at or below the poverty line. CSAT boasts a 98 percent graduation rate.