How a San Bernardino High School shattered the belief that challenging urban schools cannot benefit from a positive behavior program.

Some teachers are born almost predisposed to become educators—either they come from a long line of teachers, or knew they wanted to teach from a young age. But others sort of “fall into it”, like Jacob Rosario, who had a whole other career outside of education before stepping into the classroom—first as a substitute teacher, then teacher, and working his way up until his current role of Vice Principal at Indian Springs High School. The passion and dedication he has to help kids “become productive citizens” shows some educators just take a little longer to discover their calling.

Indian Springs High School is in the city of San Bernardino, California. As Jacob describes,

“Our community is one of the poorest cities in the nation, with an extremely high crime rate, and an inordinate amount of violence. This is the stuff kids are dealing with. No matter how well adjusted they are, personally, it’s the stuff they deal with on their way to school, the stuff they deal with on the weekend that is challenging.”

Because of the negative images surrounding them, Jacob works really hard to try and create a positive climate at Indian Springs, and provide students a safe place to spend their days. He feels the best way to do this is through a Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program, which recognizes students for their good behavior, consequently reducing negative behavior and cultivating a more positive school environment.

Clarity of Vision.

When he first started at Indian Springs Mr. Rosario felt that starting a positive behavior program was the top priority. After all, when your school is dealing with really major incidents on a daily basis, using your resources for recognizing good behavior seems frivolous—and impossible. All of your time is spent breaking up fights and bad behavior, and administrating and enforcing the consequences. But Jacob believed in the power of a positive behavior program to transform even the most behaviorally challenged, so he continued pushing his vision. He soon found a few others who believed in the same paradigm, and together they started developing some of the strategies and components of necessary as the foundation of their Hero behavior program.

One individual who shared his vision was Chelsea Ramirez, Indian Spring’s PBIS Coordinator. Like Jacob, she believed in the power of incentivizing positive behavior through programs like PBIS, and found that implementing it school-wide (with the help of Hero) was even more impactful.

“The student incentive program is not a new concept. Good teachers have been doing this for years. What has been really effective for us is that we have rolled Hero out across our whole site…so you don’t just have the buy-in from 10 teachers that have found this “thing that works.” It’s rolled out across all our teachers so that students are not having to make these “manic transitions” throughout the day. They can expect to be acknowledged for the same behaviors in every classroom, every period, every day.”

Simple and effective incentives

In terms of incentives, Indian Springs keeps it simple with a School Store that’s open every Thursday, and kids with enough points can redeem them for snacks or spirit gear. Their store is so successful that there has been over 120 kids in line, waiting over 45 minutes—proving that high school kids DO care about “simple treats”.

The school store has also provided some poignant moments for the Indian Springs admin team. Chelsea explains,

“One student asked for an XXXL sweatshirt. He was a small kid, so I said, ‘Honey this will be way too big for you!’ To which he replied, ‘No, I earned it for my mom for Christmas because I can’t afford to get her anything else.’ It’s a reminder that many of our kids go without in their home life so hugely and changing the paradigm to one that is positive makes a big difference. A lot of these kids have devastating home lives. So the truth is, when they go home every day to neglect or abuse, discipline, referrals and suspensions will not be the thing to change their behavior.”

These are the realities for many Indian Springs students. So if you can’t change what happens outside of our safe environment, what can you do to combat it? Chelsea shares their experience,

“What does work for our students is frequent positive check-ins, little treats, and recognition throughout the day. We are acknowledging the little positive things they do. Watching this unfold has been truly incredible and has had a profound impact on us, personally and professionally.”

SEE THE TOOLS THEY USED

If moments like these don’t prove that their Hero behavior program is working, then the results they’re seeing certainly will.

When they opened in 2012, they dealt with a lot of violence, drug violations, and theft. Over time, with hard work and diligence, Indian Springs has transformed—some students even stay on campus until 5 or 6 because it’s become a safe haven for them. The types of incidents have changed dramatically, too. Now, they deal primarily with minor classroom disruptions. In 2015 they had 16 big fights on record. This year they’ve only had three. This progress, both tangible and intangible, is undeniable. Jacob shared:

“Hero has helped us focus our efforts on helping things go right instead of reacting to things that have gone wrong. Instead of being reactive, we’re spending the majority of our time being proactive and recognizing the positive. People are focused on the good things, and what you’re focused on is what you do more of.”

Establishing the baseline. Measuring behavior. Proving the concept.

Indian Springs’ deliberate transition to a school-wide PBIS program aided in their success. They purchased Hero to pilot during the second semester of the 2015-2016 school year, with the goal of having a full launch in September of 2016. In the spring, the PBIS Team got signed up, practiced with the Hero application and its proven school-wide behavior management concept. They started capturing behavior with Hero, “so that we could really identify what issues there may be, and how it would work for our campus, giving us a clear plan for the full roll out.”

With the full campus roll-out, they started by using Hero one day, then two, then three, until eventually Hero was being used in every classroom, every day. It helps that Jacob and his team put up signs in the staff lounge to recognize the five teachers with the most “tracks” in Hero. (The ones with the least are given gentle reminders.)

“Go for the heartstrings first. Get the kids’ heart and respect, and they will follow you through graduation. Culture beats strategy. IF you have a strong culture, the strategy you choose isn’t quite as important. But you can pick the best strategy, and without the right culture, without the right paradigm it will just be weaponized, misused, or just be ineffective. So we’ve really focused on “the heart” and making sure the culture was correct.” – Jacob Rosario

Being an educator is difficult, even in the best of circumstances, but in a community that has more than its share of violence and danger, it can be especially challenging. With so much negativity and bad behavior, it may feel like the only solution is to punish the students. But Indian Springs is proof that a positive behavior program isn’t just for schools dealing with minor behavior problems. Their success shows that shifting towards the positive is a worthwhile investment for any campus.