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Comet Code wins merit award for Phoenix Middle School

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Catherine W. Idzerda
June 20, 2013

— Math, reading and the science of walking in the hall.

Social studies, science and the fine art of cafeteria behavior.

For the past several years, the academic lineup at Delavan-Darien High School and Phoenix Middle School has included all the traditional subjects along with a heavy emphasis standard of behavior called “The Comet Code.”

This week, the district learned Phoenix Middle School had been named a “School of Merit” for its efforts with Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports, which is commonly referred by its acronym, PBIS.

In the past four years, the middle school has reduced major behavioral issues by more than half. Major behavioral problems include fighting, theft and sometimes profanity. These issues could result in in-school or out-of-school suspensions.

In that same time period, minor disciplinary issues such as running in the halls or talking out of turn also have dropped 70 percent.

At the high school level, overall office referrals dropped 30 percent in the last two school years. For serious infractions, the decrease was even more significant. Drug referrals dropped from 12 to five, tobacco referrals fell from 12 to two and harassment referrals went from 26 to nine.

“The Comet Code”, which was first implemented at the high school, is the foundation of the changes. It reads, “We are respectful, we are responsible, we are safe, we are learners.”

Those phrases are translated into action through the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports system.

Nearly 900 schools in almost 200 districts are trained in or are using the system.

The principle is simple: Children and young adults need to be taught what is meant by “good behavior.”

For example, instead being told, “Clean up after yourself in the cafeteria,” student are shown what that means: Remove the dirty items from your tray, pick up any stray garbage, replace your chair under the table, put the tray in the appropriate spot.

Phoenix Middle School Associate Principal Charles Tollefsen said you have to “teach students explicitly how you want something done.”

“We had to teach students how to start a class: Sit in their assigned seat, pull out your pencil, notebook and assignment from the night before and get started right away on the warm-up exercise,” Tollefsen said.

Another crucial piece of the program: Acknowledge positive behaviors rather than constantly focusing on the negative.

All teachers have the same rules, and expectations are the same across the board.

Tollefsen and Phoenix Principal Mark Weerts acknowledged teaching those behaviors takes time.

Teachers and staff actually develop lesson plans for each behavior and track data to see where all the problem spots are.

“The time you spend on the front end establishing the rules and expectations is brought back many times over in instructional minutes,” Weerts said.

Weerts said it’s been a team effort to develop the program, with the teachers in the trenches doing the difficult work of consistent enforcement and training.

The program has changed the atmosphere for the better.

“PBIS is really a cultural shift rather than a behavioral program,” Tollefsen said. “This is the way we do things at Phoenix.”



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