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I arrive at Maxfield Park Primary to the sound of children enthusiastically belting out their songs at devotion, led by P.E. teacher Marlon Richards, who flashes wide grins as he cheers on the students. There is a palpable sense of positive energy here – there is a beating pulse.
After devotion, I sit with four students from Grades 5 and 6 to talk about some new methods the school has been using to encourage positive behaviour changes.
Core values energize school
At the base of this effort is a set of three core values the school has chosen to promote – encouraging all students to be safe, respectful and responsible, or “Be SRR” for short.
For 10-year-old Anecia, this means “being respectful to all staff members, kitchen staff, security and the whole school environment. And not only those in the school but people on the road, because you don’t know when you’ll need help and those same people you’re rude to are the same ones you will see again and can help you.”
“We learn how to behave ourselves, how to walk in a line, to listen to people when they are speaking,” says Daynea. Fellow student Clifford says it also means “how to display orderliness when entering and exiting the class.”
Students learning positive behaviour
Rushell adds that Be SRR includes “being respectful to each other, no matter how big or small they are.”
Maxfield Park Primary created these core values two years ago as they began to pilot the School-Wide Positive Behaviour Intervention and Support (SWPBIS) framework, guided by the Ministry of Education with support from UNICEF.
SWPBIS is built on the idea that an entire school can rally around a set of positive values and rely on these, instead of harsh punitive measures, to reduce unwanted behaviours. Once schools adopt the SWPBIS principles, they can experiment with different interventions and they must document their efforts to see what works.
Reward system introduced
Maxfield Park Primary came up with several ways to infuse the values throughout the school, including a “Be SRR” song for devotion, and a reward system called “Gotcha” – with an unexpected twist.
“Gotcha is not what you would normally think – it is when children are caught doing something good,” says Mr. Richards. “When this happens, the child is acknowledged at devotion and earns a token. Anyone who notices good behaviour can give you a token. The janitor can give you a token for being safe, respectful and responsible. The security at the gate can give you a token if he sees behaviour that’s deemed rewardable. You can also earn tokens for forming lines and being an early bird to school.”
Once students earn 5 regular tokens, they earn a green token – which can be redeemed for books, pencils, sharpeners and other small items at the Guidance Counsellor’s office. When students have 10 tokens, they get a pink token which leads to a “sweet treat” from the vendors outside, such as ice cream. Students hand over the tokens they earn to any of the SWPBIS team members to be recorded.
Reduction in fights
The changes have been notable. The Principal, Mrs. Beverley Gallimore-Vernon – who constantly encourages her students to soar as eagles do – says the monthly behavioural logs show a reduction in the number of fights since SWPBIS was introduced.
“When I came here, almost every day parents or police were here because the students were having so many fights,” says Gallimore-Vernon. “That has improved significantly. People used to associate bad behaviour with Maxfield Park, but now we are seeing more people come in to register their children here.” There have also been improvements in attendance and academic performance.
Daynea is happy about the changes she has seen. “When this (token system) wasn’t happening, there was fighting and things happening on the road, and bad words – but since ‘Be SRR’ the students are behaving themselves, because with just one token you get a book or a pencil, but with more tokens you get a sweet prize!”
Challenges remain at home
While the school is making a good effort, the students tell me there’s still a lot of work to do with changing the behaviours at home.
Rushell says, “anything you do at home, you’re going to do it anywhere.” Clifford agrees: “It starts from the home. Anything that happens at the home it goes into the child and the child exerts it into the public and society.” Anecia adds to the sentiment, “It’s like when you spread diseases.”
They conclude that it takes practice – that students need to take what they are learning at school and try their best to repeat these behaviours at home.
“Practicing ‘Be SRR’ can build up your strong confidence,” says Daynea. “You can go home and practice to be safe. If you learn respect, you can go home and be respectful. Anything you practice, you can do – if you think before you do.”
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Be SRR – Song Lyrics
Be SRR (4 times)
Be, we must be safe
Be, we must be respectful
Early to school nuh have time fi waste
Naw idle with friends
Outta school late
School starts 7:30
Mi naw come late
Yuh nuh need fi skip
You nuh affi push
Jus join de line
Yuh wi get thru
When a your time
Come mek wi walk
Wi nuh affi run
Let’s be safe
And have fun