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Maryvale Middle School having success with program for positive behavior by students

An incentive program that promotes positive behavior by students appears to be exceeding expectations at Maryvale Middle School.

The district launched its Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program, or PBIS, in September 2014, and officials have already noticed a dramatic improvement in student conduct.

Middle school students are encouraged to SOAR – an acronym for Safe, Ownership, Acceptable actions and Respect – as they demonstrate appropriate behavior.

Residents attending the School Board meeting Monday had an opportunity to see the program in action.

The SOAR message is presented to the students through an incentive program, contests and morning televised announcements, when points of emphasis are demonstrated.

For example, when school staff noticed a spike in hallway misbehavior, teaching staff and students were recruited to make a video demonstrating both incorrect and proper behavior.

In a twist, the teachers acted as students misbehaving, with the students serving as role models.

“It’s very engaging and a great way to get staff members involved,” said school psychologist Julia A. Kuczmarski. “It’s been a great tool for us.”

Expectations are reinforced with incentives including pep assemblies, games between students and teachers and SOAR coins that can be redeemed for prizes. Kuczmarski said the coins are rewards from teachers who observe students doing something positive.

Science teacher Melissa M. Ramirez said data collected monthly is used to plan lessons, reinforce positive expectations and identify students who may need additional support.

“How do we know PBIS works?” Ramirez asked. “We look at evidence of student application in our building.”

Ramirez noted that students have used SOAR to write classroom norms, and a competition in which students were asked to create jingles based on the SOAR theme was popular.

“They did a great job getting involved and showing the Maryvale spirit,” Ramirez said.

Principal Jeffrey D. Richards said that “behavioral referrals” – which are generated any time a pupil violates the student code of conduct – are down by almost 40 percent from last year.

The difference between September 2014 and September 2015 was more pronounced, he said: There were 137 referrals in 2014, compared with 63 in 2015.

“I was shocked; I couldn’t believe we had that few,” Richards said. “I thought teachers had given up. That’s not the case, because the data is showing us the improved behavior as a whole.”

Also Monday, Maryvale Teachers Association President Kurt J. Hansen once again requested that the district consider a retirement incentive, citing struggles in recent years by many school districts to put forth a responsible budget.

Early indications suggest that the district could receive state aid equal to or greater to the amount it received in 2015, Hansen said.

“Still, revenue could be limited for the district,” he said. “It could make for tough decisions again.”

According to Hansen, the concept is similar to one he proposed last December. It would be offered to all eligible employees in the teachers union who choose to retire as of June 30.

Hansen said he is not sure how many teachers are considering retirement this year, adding that the association “isn’t looking to push folks out,” but simply to offer the incentive.