Fremont may try a positive approach to cut suspensions

Fremont High School is considering more positive ways for student discipline in hopes that fewer students will misbehave or be suspended.
That’s because Fremont has the second highest number of suspensions in all of Oakland Unified. From Aug. 27 through Oct. 31, Fremont had 56 suspensions, second only to Oakland High with 64 suspensions. But Fremont had 795 students and Oakland High had 1,601.

To help reduce these suspensions, the school may adopt a new system called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“PBIS is preventative,” said Joanna Brownson, co-director of the ASAP Center. “It focuses on teaching and reinforcing positive behaviors rather than punishing negative ones. Suspending is ineffective and re-enforces negative behavior.”
PBIS was originally for students with disabilities and came from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1997, according to the program’s official website.

Supporters of PBIS say the system also helps the general education teachers with classroom management.
Freshman Lisa Kong likes the idea behind PBIS.

“If teachers motivated students instead of yelling at them there would be less suspensions,” said Kong.

Three staff members —Brownson, Vice Principal Edith Jordan McCormick and history teacher Elizabeth Siarny — attended a PBIS convention in Eugene, Ore., earlier this year to learn more about the system.

Brownson explained that under PBIS, a school wide norm for behavior would be taught in the classrooms and all the campus spaces. Under the system, students who display positive behavior could earn Tiger Tickets, which could be turned in for rewards.

“It’s a way of teaching teachers to see the positive things students do and not just the negative,” said Brownson, who was known for celebrating successes of her students when she was a math teacher at Media Academy last year.
Raffles, for example, are a way for teachers to incentivize students in a positive manner and prevent suspensions, Brownson explained.

Even this year, students have earned raffle tickets in some classes by finishing their work, being on time or displaying other good behavior. Prizes have included extra credit, snacks and supplies.

An article in the California Educator magazine, described other rewards that some schools use. Some schools offer barbecues and assemblies honoring teens who bring up their grades.

This would be welcomed by students such as freshman Ariel Ferrer.

The campus atmosphere right now, she said, is “negative because the school is all chaos, like the fights, the bad food, all the grimy stuff.”

PBIS supporter believe that once a system is in place to focus on positive behaviors, many of the negatives will disappear.

“Students need to be acknowledged for the positive things they do,” said Jordan.

PBIS has worked particularly well for students and has been proven effective for schools like Fremont, Jordan explained. Oakland Technical High, Oakland High and several Oakland middle schools are using the PBIS program, she said.

M’kala Payton, a senior who is part of Youth Together, an organization that works on educational equity, is not convinced that PBIS will be effective.

“I don’t know if PBIS is the [correct] necessary approach to work with students,” she said. “I think rewards are great and students need to be appreciated more, but that doesn’t solve their issues.”

Still, others remain optimistic about the possibilities.“If PBIS is anything like Upstanders Lunch, I think it will work,” said journalism teacher Lisa Shafer.