In the past three years, Principal Beth McGraw has seen students with social deficits transform.
At Washington Street TLC, Ms. McGraw has watched students blossom into respectful and cooperative middle schoolers – thanks in large part to the Boys Town Education Model. The behavior intervention program, that all of the WSWHE BOCES’ Special and Alternative Education programs will adopt, works because it uses predictable and positive reinforcement of good behavior.
“Boys Town is awesome,” said Ms. McGraw. “In my 27 years in special education, I have not seen a system work this well. Really, I’ve seen miraculous changes in students’ behavior. The kids have begun to internalize good behavior.”
The program targets 16 specific behaviors such as “accepting no for an answer,” “having a conversation,” and “accepting criticism or a consequence.” Each one of these behaviors has a list of three to five clear steps to achieve the acceptable conduct.
Students are assigned behaviors they need to work on. At the beginning of the year, the assigned skills typically are “following instructions” and “greeting others.” At the beginning of each day, students get a yellow booklet on which they list the target skills they plan to practice. They also list a building-wide skills goal of the week.
In the booklet, they will record every time they demonstrate good behavior or the targeted skill. And every time they do, they will be awarded points – usually 500 to 1,000 – by their teachers. When a student falls short of his or her goals, such as “not asking permission” or “staying on task,” a student earns penalty points and is asked to practice the skill.
At the end of every day, students calculate their points. Students can then purchase items with their points – often something small like a pencil or large like a hoodie – or they can hand in their points for an activity. Among the fun events that can be purchased include foosball, movies, basketball, and crafts.
Students who have social skills in place can graduate to a progress card, which helps them to work on more complex social skills like "making appropriate choices" or "remaining friends with a classmate after a disagreement." Students working on the progress cards can purchase items and activities at half-price.
No matter which system you are on – the basic or more advanced – there are opportunities for teachers to have “planned teaching” moments, where they can go over the steps to the skill and practice them with students. McGraw carries around the steps to all 16 skills with her throughout the day in order to help students practice.
Of course, students can have challenges when it comes to behavior. They may know the right thing to do, but they are too upset or angry to do the right thing in that moment. At those times, students are referred to the Skills Room where the staff members go through a step-by-step process to de-escalate the student, help them relearn and practice the appropriate behavior, and then talk about future prevention and consequences. A visit to the Skills Room leads to an eventual re-entry into the classroom with an apology.
She said it’s amazing to watch how far one student can progress in a year.
“There are kids making positive choices on their own, something I did not see with other management programs,” said Ms. McGraw. “It’s positive, predictable and because they practice the skills, they become internalized. They also learn to advocate for themselves. It’s been a wonderful program.”
In addition, to Washington Street TLC, the BEST and the TSP North and South programs have employed the Boys Town model for several years with the same excellent results. Sanford Street TLC will adopt Boys Town in the fall of 2013.