Fights are down and grades are up in schools with child-friendly SWPBIS

“I’ve seen a lot of students participating in class more; coming to school on a regular basis; less fights…Students are coming to school because they have something to achieve at Albert Town High School!” – Daniel Foster, student.

In 2014, Albert Town joined a 56-school pilot of the School Wide Positive Behaviour Intervention and Support (SWPBIS) framework – an initiative led by the Ministry of Education with support from UNICEF. SWPBIS moves away from a more punitive approach and tackles behavioural challenges by getting students to define, aspire to and live by a set of positive values and behaviour that are routinely rewarded.

Thanks to the performance of the pilot, the Ministry of Education has now approved SWPBIS for all primary and high schools.

Schools like Albert Town High embarked upon a journey that must have at least 80 per cent support by school staff to implement the SWPBIS framework – which is methodically rolled out over three tiers before considered complete.

The most important part for children is that they are made to feel empowered from the outset, including creating a new mantra that reflects shared values. At Albert Town students all want to be ‘RICH’ – not get rich quick – but ‘Respectful, Industrious, Courteous and Honest (RICH).

“SWPBIS highlights positive behaviours, so they do not focus on the negatives. And through these behaviors we gain recognition. Persons now want to emulate you, seeing that you have qualities that are positive,” says Daniel’s schoolmate and SWPBIS ambassador Tiandra Lewis.

The school wide approach is critical because everyone – not just students and teachers – but all levels of staff, the wider community and even bus park loader men who interact with students daily can play a key role in encouraging and supporting positive behaviours.

“SWPBIS is not just the business of guidance counsellors, it is also the business of every adult within the school and outside the school gates, as demonstrated by Albert Town High School, even the loader man in the bus park,” says Fern McFarlane, who is responsible for SWPBIS within the Guidance and Counselling Unit at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information. “Even without realising it we are putting into action the philosophy: ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’”

Albert Town High School SW-PBIS jamaica
UNICEF/JAM/Allison HicklingAlbert Town High School SW-PBIS ambassador Tiandra Lewis

While SWPBIS has taken a lot of work, it has been an eye-opening experience, says McFarlane. Word-of-mouth about the success so far means that McFarlane regularly fields calls from other schools who want to come aboard.

Schools successfully implementing SWPBIS are reporting improvements in attendance, behaviour and academic achievement. Simple initiatives such as introducing attendance cards has helped Chester Castle All Age School in Hanover raise attendance by 20 per cent. Lethe All Age in St. James has raised literacy levels at Grade 4 from 52 per cent to 68 per cent.

Such positives, while deserving of celebration, cannot obscure the many challenges schools still face. For instance, a 2015 Child Development Agency (CDA) survey, conducted with support from UNICEF, revealed that bullying is so widespread that almost 30 per cent of children fear going to school. SWPBIS recognises these challenges and through the framework includes programmes such as Values and Attitudes in the Health and Family Life Education Programme.

SWPBIS is guided by George Sugai, a professor at the University of Connecticut, and PBIS co-founder. McFarlane credits him with working beyond the terms of his contract to provide continual guidance not just to the Ministry but also to individual teachers. Each school SWPBIS team meets monthly, reviewing and adjusting plans to ensure the programme fits the individual needs of their student body.

“What we have seen so far is encouraging – the buy-in from the senior level policymakers in the ministry, school administrations, students and parents tells us that we can be proactive instead of reactive. This can help turn around the climate in our schools, to help all of our children maximise their potential,” says UNICEF Education Specialist Rebecca Tortello.

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