North Sanpete rolls out new behavioral program
By Robert Stevens
MT. PLEASANT—A discussion about bullying in the North Sanpete School District (NSSD) may be a catalyst to help improve the district’s new behavioral program.
At a board meeting Tuesday, May 15, Melody Brunson, a former teacher and vice president of Moroni Elementary’s Parent Teacher Association, shared her concerns about bullying. She has two autistic children.
“I am not trying to start problems,” Brunson said. “My son’s teachers and the district have done some amazing things—things that my children benefit from greatly.”
Despite her glowing recommendation of NSSD and its teachers, Brunson said one of her sons has dealt with bullying and harassment regularly, and because of his autism, she is deeply concerned that it will cause a ripple effect that leaves an impact all the way into his adult life.
“My children will tell me ‘someone hit me, but it’s OK,’” she said. “But it’s not OK. A culture of aggression is something that will warp his sense of ‘norms’. It teaches them to be both a victim and an aggressor.”
Brunson said she has read a number of studies, including one published in the Journal of Psychology, that say bullying affects children much worse than society previously thought. If that is the case, she believes bullying will affect autistic children even worse. She is worried it might mean they won’t live normal lives as they grow older.
“My children should know they can go through school knowing their bodies are safe,” Brunson said.
Brunson told the Messenger that a culture of bullying and allowing bullies to get away without consequences is something she believes many students deal with in the NSSD. She said that once she had a conversation with another mother whose child was in a local school. The mother told Brunson that her child would have told her if he had ever been bullied—that she would know.
Upon returning home, Brunson said the mother asked her child outright if he had experienced bullying and the child told his mother “of course I have” and that he had been punched, kicked and harassed multiple times. Brunson says the mother was shocked and upset.
NSSD Superintendent Dr. Sam Ray told Brunson at the meeting that the entire district is in the process of fully implementing a new behavioral program, and perhaps she could give some input during the process that would contribute to the program’s effectiveness in preventing problems with bullying.
The new behavioral program, dubbed Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS), isn’t really new—just new to the district—and this is its first year at NSSD. Before its rollout, each school had its own way of handling behavioral issues, said Chalyece Shelley, NSSD special education director and the person tasked with handling the PBIS implementation.
“It’s a system-wide framework meant to get every school in the district operating on the same rules,” Shelley said. “All kids will get it, along with consistent rules and rewards.”
PBIS gradually rolled out this year with the first tier. A consultant from the University of Utah is helping the district to institute the three stages of PBIS, said Shelley, and the district has been told that rushing its implementation process could be detrimental towards its success.
Tier one is a district-wide set of rules and a system to support them, as well as a behavior tracking component that Shelley said will be able to help identify areas and individuals that need more support.
Tiers two and three, which Shelley said will be rolled out gradually over the next year, will include a system to provide more individual attention to students who might be struggling. The second tier is meant to support those students who have difficulty staying within the system-wide rules instituted during the rollout of tier one.
The final tier is only meant for application in special circumstances, said Shelley. It is tailored to support students who may struggle with special needs, aggressive behavior or have experienced trauma. She doubts that no more than two or three percent of the student population might ever need the support from tier three.
Shelley said PBIS is about getting the whole district on the same page. The program is endorsed by the state and has years of statistics backing up the validity of its effectiveness. This is why the district made a move to bring it in, not because of addressing any out-of-the-ordinary behavioral problems.
“You’re always going to get some form of bullying in any school,” she said, “but I don’t think anywhere in our district has a culture of violence. It’s not in the culture; it’s not in the mindset. It is not accepted or rewarded.”
Shelley points to another factor that she thinks is a good indicator about the NSSD culture—one of long-term, continuous academic improvement. She said NSSD test scores in all the schools have been on the rise for a while, and there is no sign of stopping.
“I don’t think cultures of violence and academic improvement can really co-exist,” she said.
The Brunson’s children and the rest of the students in the NSSD should be able to benefit from this program, Shelley said. The district could have benefitted from putting it in place sooner.
“We are very open to any suggestions you might have,” Ray told Brunson in the meeting.
Ray added that he would have Shelley make a meeting with Brunson to get her input on PBIS.
Brunson told the Messenger she believes PBIS is a step in the right direction, but “until the administration enacts the program consistently, holding children accountable, supporting teachers in their efforts, and communicating with parents, it will not be effective. “
Shelley says within about another year, the behavioral tracking component of PBIS will have enough data backing it to give the district an idea of its local effectiveness. Only time will tell.