Plum program rewards students for positive behavior

| Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 2:56 p.m.

Honor-roll student Alexis Bialota will have gourmet cheesecake because of advanced algebra.

“I was in math class and I noticed that a student had put a problem on the board wrong. So I raised my hand and told the teacher that the answer was wrong and how to correct the problem. And I had done it again for another problem,” said Alexis, 15.

For her actions, the Plum Senior High School sophomore won a Cheesecake Factory gift card through the school's Principal's 180 Club.

Students whom teachers and administrators observe doing good deeds are entered into a raffle, Assistant Principal Michael Loughren said. A winner is picked every three weeks, and the winner's parents are notified, he said.

The new club is part of a schoolwide, positive-behavior support program, the number of which are increasing significantly nationwide.

They encourage positive student behavior, experts said, by using research-based instruction plans centered around behavior, social skills and academics.

They also include incentives.

“It's really helping with just focusing on the positives within the school and makes people start talking about the good things that are going on in education,” Loughren said.

The number of U.S. schools implementing positive-behavior support programs increased 28 percent to 18,277 from August 2011 and this month, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

“The more schools hear about it and the more schools see the benefit of implementing this type of positive-behavior framework, they're encouraged to sign on,” said Kelly M. Vaillancourt, director of government relations at the National Association of School Psychologists in Bethesda, Md.

Studies link the programs to improved academic performance and decreases in office discipline referrals, expulsions and suspensions, said Vaillancourt. She said the programs have existed on a large scale since 1997.

Vaillancourt said effective programs include school social workers, counselors and psychologists.

The most effective programs have strong parental involvement, experts said.

“Not every student is going to respond to just being caught being good,” she said.

After analyzing reports from previous years, staff at Ross Elementary School focused where most bad behavior occurred: buses, hallways, the cafeteria, bathrooms and recess areas, Principal David Lieberman said.

The school, in the North Hills School District, quantified acceptable noise levels; posted a student-created bulletin board about respect, ownership, safety and success; showed videos demonstrating positive behavior; and rewarded students for good behavior with prizes through a bingo system, Lieberman said.

The district will analyze data later this year to assess the program. But improvements can be seen, he said.

“When you walk down the hallways ... it's much more quiet,” he said.

Penn Hebron Elementary School established a town-like culture for its program, which started last year, Principal Sandra Barker said.

Barker is “mayor” of Respectville, as the Penn Hills school is dubbed for the program. Hallways and other spots in the building are called Cooperation Court and Hope Court, she said.

A “town meeting” with students is conducted at the start of the school year and during each semester to reinforce expectations, she said. Mini-lessons take place on buses, the playground, the cafeteria and restrooms.

For a half-hour every Wednesday, teachers lead discussions that can include lessons and videos.

There is a program in which small prizes, such as pencils, are given through rewards in drawings, she said.

Student behavior has improved significantly, she said.

West Mifflin Area's Titan Way program is being rolled out at its three elementary schools and middle school this year in phases, middle school Principal Brian Plichta said. It focuses on three Rs — ready, responsible and respectful.

The program includes rewards, calls to parents of students who've behaved well, posters featuring the three Rs, and conversations with students.

“But it's really about teaching what you expect and modeling it and having students adhere to it,” Plichta said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached |at 412-380-5662 or

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