By Krislyn Yano
At Kapaʻa Middle School on Kaua‘i, student discipline looks a little different.
Part of that is credited to the school’s culture, which is grounded in the Hawaiian values of kūpono (compassion), kūpaʻa (character) and kūlia (confidence). These values are ingrained in the school’s mission and vision, and are upheld by students and staff everyday through their schoolwide systems of positive behavioral support.
Rather than focusing on negative behaviors by singling out students for discipline and behavioral corrections, the school has integrated a Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS) program, where the attention is shifted off of the negative behavior and instead onto positive behaviors and actions.
Students are rewarded with “Pono Points” for a range of positive behaviors or actions that align with the school’s values. They can get points for such behaviors as coming to class on time, participating in class discussion, wearing their mask, social distancing, sanitizing their hands and more, all of which can be accumulated for rewards or prizes throughout the year.
Rewards at the highest tier include entries for monthly giveaways that have included everything from surfboards to skateboards to hydro flasks. Other tiers, which take place at the classroom-level, include incentives such as getting to wear a hat in class, choosing to sit by a friend for a day, listening to music while doing independent work, or keeping your camera off during an online class.
“The class-based incentives are usually things that the students ask for all the time anyway, but utilizing them as incentives empowers them with the ability to think about the impacts and intentions of their actions,” said Kapa‘a Middle Vice Principal Shannon Sardinha, who oversees the school’s PBIS program. “We encourage teachers to have students involved in choosing their incentives at the beginning of the year so that they can think about reasonable rewards that would motivate them.”
Though the concept of rewarding positive behavior with something of value like “classroom bucks” or “school dollars” is not new, Kapaʻa Middle has taken its program even further, implementing the PBIS program schoolwide through an online and mobile app system called PBIS Rewards.
The app establishes a centralized platform for the program, which is key to the schoolwide approach since students rotate classes and teachers regularly. Staff can also reward points through the app, students can purchase incentives through the app, and administrators can develop reports to help measure the program's effectiveness.
Also, since the program is schoolwide, any positive student behavior can be rewarded by anyone at any time. For example, the school cafeteria manager could observe a student doing something helpful and reward them with a point. A custodian could observe a student picking up trash and award them a point.
Since points are not restricted to a specific class, students can work to accumulate points from a variety of sources that can then be used for a specific incentive. The collective cooperation, effort and support from all faculty and staff makes this program a critical part of the school’s culture.
“Implementing PBIS in my classroom has been exciting and has also helped set up routines like getting to class on time and sanitizing hands upon entering the classroom,” said eighth-grade science teacher Melissa Wolfson. “Students have a positive outlook on the program and I can see positive changes happening in my classroom and around the school campus.”
Although only in its pilot year, the school is already seeing major improvements as a result of this program.
Last school year Kapaʻa Middle experienced 239 disciplinary incidents. For this 2020-21 school year, the number has dropped to only 25 disciplinary incidents — an impressive 90% reduction.
While the unique school learning models during the pandemic were likely a contributing factor to the lower number of incidents, students have been back on the Kapa‘a Middle campus through a blended rotating schedule since the start of the second semester, with vulnerable learners on campus since the middle of the first quarter.
Students have also noticed a change since implementing the program. In an annual student survey, favorable perceptions of the social and learning climate of classrooms at Kapaʻa Middle have improved from last school year, increasing to 72% from 60%. Along those lines, both classroom engagement and classroom teacher-student relationships increased by 5 percentage points.
“I've seen a big positive shift in our school's overall behavior since we started to use the PBIS rewards program,” eighth-grader Samuel Cotter shared. “Not only have I noticed that I am behaving better, but kids that normally wouldn't listen to authority are trying hard to abide by the rules. I am excited to see how this will continue to progress, and to see other schools adopt this wonderful program.”
Principal Shannon Sines gives much of the credit of this program to a committee of faculty and staff who have led the implementation of this program. “We are so proud of the tireless efforts of our PBIS Committee,” she said. “They exceeded our expectations in their dedication and support of colleagues to ensure the successful launch of PBIS at Kapa‘a Middle.”
Eventually the school hopes to see this implemented across the complex, where feeder elementary schools initiate the program and have it carried out through middle school and high school. Kapaʻa Middle sees potential integrating this throughout the community as well, through partnerships for rewards and for the greater community to recognize the positive things students are doing on campus.
Vice Principal Sardinha knows this vision is easier said than done but remains confident and optimistic about the future of this program. “There is still a lot of work to do, but creating a positive school climate will help us push through any challenges we may face together.”