Phoenix Academy Recognized by PA Department of Education for Thoughtful Approach to Behavioral Support
When you walk in the front door of Phoenix Academy, the first thing you see is a banner from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, proudly proclaiming the school is a recognized practitioner of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) tier 1. Now, Phoenix is about to add a second banner following another visit by the state, which validated the school’s tier 2 implementation of PBIS.
When adhering to the PBIS model, schools practice prevention, not punishment.
The state praises Phoenix for applying strategies and systems that recognize students for positive behavior. Last year, Phoenix put into action a rewards system where students could collect tickets for displaying positive behavior and redeem the tickets at the school store for a range of incentives from snacks and school items to being able to have a dress-down day.
“This year we came back and worked on our tier 2 fidelity, which looks deeper at our student support system,” said Phoenix Academy Executive Director Megan Misnik. “Tier 1 fidelity means the support can be used for everyone; tier 2 fidelity support is geared towards students for whom tier 1 isn’t working.”
PBIS presents a way for students to be rewarded for the small things that sometimes teachers just expect students to do. It can be something as simple as a thank you for coming to class and getting started on your work or a thank you for acting as a mentor to a classmate.
“We, as educators, expect students to do that, but they’re still teenagers, so giving them a thank you for doing what they’re supposed to do goes a long way,” Misnik said. “We thank them for coming to school; here’s your ticket. Thank you for completing this test; here’s your ticket. It takes away from that mindset that I’m the educator, and you’re the student, and you have to do what I say. It brings them on board in their education and reinforces positivity.”
Under Phoenix’ system, staff members look at potential strategies to support students whose behavior or academics need improvement. Examples of tier 2 interventions include a staff mentor, student-to-student mentoring with an exemplary student with a similar personality, or perhaps accommodating a student who needs frequent breaks during the day and how to make that work in class without causing issues.
In their visits, state officials reviewed Phoenix’ system as a whole by interviewing staff members, from the top down, and interviewing students about the rewards ticket system, positive recognition, and the norms on campus.
PBIS recognizes that students can only meet behavior expectations if they know what the expectations are. A hallmark of a school using PBIS is that everyone knows what appropriate behavior looks like. Throughout the school day—in class, at lunch, and even on the bus—kids understand what’s expected of them because appropriate behavior is continually reinforced and praised.
Just like every other Camelot program, Phoenix Academy has always used PBIS practices, but only recently have they applied to and received formal recognition from the state. Going through the official evaluation for two straight years has caused the Phoenix team to focus even more intensely on the positive behavior supports used on campus.
“This process makes us take a closer look at students who are not progressing as quickly as we would hope, so it makes us re-evaluate how we incentivize those students. It gives us a recognition system for all students and helps improve our school overall,” Misnik said.
Camelot Superintendent of Schools Joseph Carter, Ed.D., noted that because each child is different, schools need to provide many kinds of behavior supports to accommodate different children.
“Camelot’s program encompasses all the best practices,” he said. “This is a wonderful recognition, but PBIS is only one of the components that make our schools so effective. The ‘secret sauce’ is caring about kids, quickly establishing relationships with students, and understanding group dynamics and why each young person thinks the way he or she does. The students know we have their best interest at heart, and we have systems in place to ensure that a deep level of caring happens all day, every day.”
PBIS tier 3 will be Phoenix’s challenge for next year. Tier 3 fidelity is geared towards students who need an even higher level of support which could include connecting them and their families with agencies who offer an additional layer of support.
“I always say to my staff, treat every student with the same respect and level of rapport, and always look for how you can help the student, individually,” said Misnik. “The biggest piece of this is to push away from a discipline mindset. The idea is that you reward positive behaviors on the forefront instead of waiting to be reactive to a negative situation.”