Salinas, California is fighting violence with a school-wide positive behavior program.

We like to highlight schools around the nation that are implementing positive behavior programs, like PBIS, well in their school. We believe that creating a positive school environment has an effect that reaches beyond campus—and the school district of Salinas, California is proof. Through their dedication to a school-wide positive behavior program (SWPBIS), they are combating violence beyond the school walls.

Positive and safe school climates have a direct effect on the communities in which they live.

Salinas, CA is one of the least educated cities in America with one of the lowest numbers of doctors per capita. Endemic violence has ruled the city for years with over 22 known gangs in residence and over 3,500 gang members among the 145,000 populace in 2009. In 2015 alone, 40 people were killed in domestic disputes as well as drug and gang related incidents.

So how could any school program make a difference in a tumultuous urban arena like that?

As a member of the 10-city National Forum on Youth Violence Reduction, Salinas has also gained recognition for its methods of dealing with the widespread violence plaguing its streets. The Californian reports, “Now the city is turning to the public schools as part of its violence reduction strategy.”

In Salinas schools, the paradigm on student discipline has dramatically changed from the zero-tolerance era of the 1990’s when bad behavior was dealt with through strict, exclusionary tactics like out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. But shoving student discipline issues out of the classroom only served to spill them out into the streets.

In Salinas, like many schools nationwide, traditional punishments like immediate suspensions were proving ineffective. In every grade—from kindergarten to graduation—bullying, punching, name-calling, pushing, and profanities simply rose along with the suspension rates.

But three years ago, Salinas school officials took advantage of a $2.7 Million grant from the federal Department of Education to launch their School-Wide PBIS program. They expect to have the PBIS framework fully installed on school campuses throughout the district within the next two years and hope that it will lower the crime rate in their neighborhoods.

Jose Arreola, director of the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace, and a former principal, told The Californian,

“We have to make a cultural shift by creating the most engaging schools that we can. One of the ways to do that is with better responses to bad behavior.” He went on to say that “increasingly, students are coming to school traumatized by domestic and neighborhood violence.”

PBIS has given the schools a common language and expectations when dealing with student discipline.

Karen Roth, a first grade teacher at Mission Park School sees the benefits of this spirit of fidelity.

“Before PBIS, everybody did their own thing. It was horribly inconsistent. The greatest thing about (PBIS) is that it gave us all a common language, common expectations and consistency. So we all expected kids to follow these rules in these areas. Every person on staff is reinforcing the same expectations.”

The Salinas school districts have made impressive strides towards implementing a school-wide PBIS program on their campuses. They’ve hired three analysts and four clinicians to help monitor and review behavioral data as well as PBIS specialist for the Monterey County Office of Education, Esther Rubio.

Rubio asserts that everything in the PBIS model is data driven. They capture behavior incidences throughout the district and plug it into a school wide information center. The reports made give school leaders the perspective they need to make good decisions about behavioral policies.

Using the data, they can even pinpoint which behaviors are a problem at each grade level.

At Mission Park School, the main issue for upper grades is disrespect. In the lower grades, Roth shares that the problems is a lack of responsibility. She says, “We don’t have issues with drugs or violence here. A lot of it is a lack of responsibility. I’ve had to teach them how to apologize.”

But the data also shows positive turns in school climate. So far, the data points to the fact that office referrals have declined since they began their implementation of PBIS.

Karen Roth sums up the work in front of them to create a positive, safe school climate.

“It’s never going to be perfect or complete. They say three to five years for full implementation. That doesn’t mean you’re done. I think it’s always going to be changing. Every year, every group of kids is different, the classroom dynamics is different, from well behaved to warring factions. So I have to recalibrate every year.”

Improving school climate, even with great systems like School-wide PBIS, is an ongoing project, but tools like Hero can help.

Check out the full article on on what Salinas schools are doing here.