A collaborative effort by Amboy Middle School staff and bus drivers to implement a positive-behavior reward program has significantly improved student behavior on the school's buses. So far this year, bus behavior problems have been reduced to a third of what they were last year. Drivers have written just a third of the citations they wrote last year by this time for disciplinary issues in transit.
The reduction in citations is impressive considering that it is common for students living in rural north Clark County to ride a bus for more than an hour each way to and from school. Administrators and staff attribute the impressive results to the school's effort to extend its behavioral expectations program from classrooms to the buses. Amboy staff worked with bus drivers to identify behavioral expectations for students when they are on the bus and then shared those expectations with students. Bus drivers received training on how to handle problems by using techniques that focus on the behavioral expectations and giving rewards to students who demonstrate those expectations. "We have empowered the bus drivers in a positive way," said Mike Maloney, Amboy Middle School principal. "We gave them tools they can have in their back pockets."
Amboy Middle School staff started studying and implementing school-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) five years ago as a way to improve student behavior. Battle Ground Public Schools is implementing PBIS methods at all its schools in support of its focus on social-emotional learning. With PBIS, staff teach behavioral expectations to students just as they would any core subject, and reinforce those expectations with rewards. The collaboration between Amboy and the bus drivers has not only reduced behavior problems on the buses, but also has strengthened the relationship between educators and the drivers who work for Battle Ground's transportation provider, Cascade Student Transportation.
In the classroom and on the buses, Amboy's behavioral expectations encompass three main areas: safety, respect and responsibility. Amboy Middle School staff has identified behavior expectations within each category for every area of the school, from the bathrooms and gymnasium to the cafeteria and classrooms, and on the buses.
On the buses, for example, students are expected to be safe, respectful and responsible; use inside voices; sit facing forward; keep bus aisles clear and listen to the driver. In the cafeteria students are expected to be patient in line and clean up their area and in the bathrooms students are expected to return to class promptly and dispose of towels in garbage receptacles, in addition to other expectations.
Behavior expectations are posted in the different areas around the school and on the buses, and staff members review them monthly with students. Staff members also meet regularly to discuss expectations and make any changes to help improve or clarify the expected outcomes of student behavior. Amboy staff use data from the documentation of behaviors to drive PBIS decisions.
When students are "caught" demonstrating positive behavior above and beyond what is expected (such as picking up trash in the halls), all staff carry small plastic tokens called Eagle talons for the school's mascot, that students earn toward classroom and grade-level incentives like free recesses, popcorn parties and root beer floats. Bus drivers have paper vouchers that they can award to students to exchange for a talon.
Amboy celebrates positive behavior goals with whole-school celebrations, too, such as a recent pep assembly where students and staff competed in quick, fun activities named after a television game show called "Minute To Win It." And the time that Amboy takes from academics to reward students for positive behavior is paid back in dividends. "The time given for an extra recess is minimal compared to what we save by not having to discipline students during class time," Maloney said.
The PBIS expectations and rewards system is the first layer of a broader support system that seeks to identify and mitigate the cause of behavioral problems among students. Research has shown that 80 percent of students respond to the first level of support. Amboy uses second and third tiers of intervention to provide additional social-emotional support to students who don’t respond to the first level. "The overall reduction in discipline issues reduces the white noise and helps us see who truly needs extra support," said Tamra Scheetz, Amboy's school psychologist.
A student who exhibits disruptive behaviors on a regular basis, for example, might need second-tier intervention called check-in check-out, where the student meets with a staff member at the beginning and end of each day to talk about goals and expectations. The third tier of intervention is for students who don't respond to tier two. The third tier employs a support team of adults, an individualized student plan identifying specific goals and data collection. "The higher the tier, the more people involved and the more specific the plan is," Scheetz said.
A core component that has developed from Amboy's PBIS implementations is relationships, Maloney said. "The proactive activities and positive energy are helping staff to build relationships with students that goes even further in reducing negative behaviors."
"It's amazing how much harder kids will work for you when they feel like you trust them," said Erica Benge, a fifth grade math and English language arts teacher at Amboy. "When they know we expect them to make good choices, that is what we get."