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Just rewards

Brooklyn students start year with party to reinforce good behavior
New York Teacher

The students seem happy to be back in the groove.

Everyone loves a good party. Especially students who get to dance, socialize and listen to music after spending “most days sitting at their desks,” says Lauren Klasewitz, a music teacher at PS 151 in Bushwick, Brooklyn. What makes the monthly parties at PS 151 really special is that students earn them with their hard work and good behavior.

The goal of the school’s first party of the school year, a back-to-school party on Sept. 28, was to build on the “great success” of the school’s Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program, says Franchesco Lorenzo, a 5th-grade paraprofessional and the chair of the program committee.

There’s dancing — and then there’s dancing with attitude.

The program’s three rules are “be responsible, be respectful and be safe.”

The Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports program, which the school implemented in 2014, rewards students’ positive behavior — such as staying on task, helping others and wearing their uniforms — with points they can use to purchase items at the school’s “store,” including pencils, stuffed animals and costumes.

These positive actions are celebrated every month with a party for the whole school, where students have an opportunity to purchase rewards that are funded in part by the school and supplemented by donations from staff and community partners. Lorenzo has served as a DJ, an emcee and a magician at the parties, and he says they are a good way for the students “to let loose and enjoy themselves.”

Staff members say the program has resulted in higher student performance and fewer disciplinary incidents, including suspensions, that require parental involvement.

Deborah Sherman, a 3rd-grade teacher and the UFT chapter leader, acknowledges that the program is “just one piece of the puzzle,” but says it has already had a positive impact by “addressing challenging behaviors and making it easier to teach in the classroom.”

Paraprofessional Franchesco Lorenzo (left) and guidance counselor Annette Rivera
Students get to check out a fire truck when the firefighters stop by.

Klasewitz believes rewarding good behavior will encourage students to practice it naturally. Her advice to other teachers is to focus on positive reinforcement rather than discipline. When students see their peers rewarded for good behavior, it becomes an effective model for them, Lorenzo says.

Ultimately, the staff at PS 151 wants students to internalize the lessons of the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports program and continue exhibiting positive behavior throughout their lives. Sherman says the larger goal is to create “productive members of society.”

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