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Pride trumps punishment in new school initiative

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The quiet in the school gymnasium was remarkable, especially when you consider there were 630 students in the room. Even more impressive was the fact that the fifth-graders, who were the very last to file out, remained quiet until the last student had exited.

The students of Washington Elementary had just participated in a “Purple PRIDE” celebration last Tuesday in recognition of what they’ve learned when it comes to making the school a more positive place to be. And though the celebration was filled with balloons, music and the comical antics of the school’s principal, Connie Hyde, it was as much about putting into practice what they’ve learned as it was about having fun. That’s where the quiet came in.

The official title of the program is School-Wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (SW-PBIS), though at Washington it is simply known as “Purple PRIDE.” The PRIDE initials come from the promise that every student has learned, committed to memory and recited in unison at the end of the assembly: “I promise to be Positive, show Respect, Include others, and Do my best Every day.”

According to Washington teacher and group training leader Leanne Schmidt, the SW-PBIS manual describes the program as being “ a proactive approach to establishing appropriate student behaviors and the type of social culture needed for all students in a school to achieve social, emotional and academic success.”

The program includes strategies for defining, teaching, and supporting appropriate student behaviors to create a positive school environment, both in the classroom and in non-schoolroom settings such as in hallways and restrooms and on the playground and school buses.

Schmidt said in the past, school-wide discipline has traditionally focused mainly on reacting to specific student misbehavior with punishment-based strategies, which can often be ineffective, especially if used inconsistently. The new program gives students classroom instruction and gentle, ongoing reminders of what they can do to keep behavior problems to a minimum  and be more mindful of how their behavior has an affect on others. Some of those reminders come in the form of T-shirts that say “We take PRIDE in education” that were purchased for all staff members by the school’s P.I.E. (Partners in Education) group. Purple paw prints have been strategically posted throughout the school along with one-line suggestions about the type of behavior to practice in each particular location. Students received Purple  PRIDE bracelets at last Tuesday’s celebration and were awarded small prizes with other reminders on them throughout the assembly as a reward for knowing the appropriate rules of conduct.

When Hyde asked one student what Purple PRIDE meant to him, he responded off the cuff, “Do good in school and be your best every day. Work hard.”

Another, a kindergartner, said, “Be positive. Show respect. Make others happy.”

Yet another defined Purple PRIDE as, “Being nice, and sticking up for people being bullied.”

Three of the school’s teachers produced a music video, including music teacher Katy Buytaert, school psychologist Alissa Anderson and art teacher Andrea Cacek, that was shown during Tuesday’s program, with photos of students and staff and an original song called “Purple PRIDE, Hey!” set to the music of “What Does the Fox Say?” and sung by the students of Mrs. Rhonda Chapin’s fourth-grade class.

Hyde reminded students during the celebration, “It takes every one of us to keep our school safe, inclusive, positive and respectful.” She then posed a series of scenarios to students and asked what the best course of behavior would be.

“How can you include others at recess?” Hyde asked one student.

“Ask them to play with you,” the student replied.

“How can you show respect in the halls?” Hyde quizzed another.

“Keep your hands to yourself and keep zero noise levels,” answered the student.

“How can you show your teacher you’re doing your best?”

“Practice good behavior,” another student said.

Schmidt said Washington is working parallel with Churchill Elementary in piloting the two-year, Minnesota Department of Education-funded initiative. And though both schools have had anti-bullying programs in place for several years now, it’s hoped that bullying might become a thing of the past if students learn the benefits of treating one another with respect from the very start.

“Every day we can help each other be the best we can be,” concluded Hyde.