“Save behavior mod. Save behavior mod. Save behavior mod.”
So ran the chorus outside Indian River High School on May 2, as more than 50 students lined the curb, waving signs and voicing support for members of the behavior management team.
Yes, strange as it might sound, these middle and high school students actually came to school early to rally in support of their disciplinary system. What’s next — passing the hat for the assistant principal’s new paddle?
No, the days of paddling are slipping into the past. However, the results achieved by Indian River School District (IRSD) behavior management teams have proven at least as effective, and possibly more so, in terms of teaching life skills like conflict resolution.
The program started up five years ago, and since then, according to Indian River High School Principal Mark Steele, office referrals dropped from 1,063 (in 2000) to 373 (in 2004).
At Indian River High School, the team is — or perhaps, was — Norman Anderson (hall monitor), Elaine Marvel (intervention specialist) and Harold Walters (student advisor).
Students chanted slogans like “Save Eric’s Mom (Marvel)” and “Stormin’ for Norman (Anderson).”
These workers are on short-term contracts, and they expect their pink slips every June. However, they’re usually rehired in the fall — that might not be the case this year.
Anderson remembered his shock, when administrators warned him, and more than 20 of his school climate coworkers, that budget shortfalls might force the district to eliminate their positions. He said they’d been told they might be rehired with new job titles, and at less pay (he wasn’t sure how much less) — but there were no definites yet.
“I think we will be cut — the federal grant money we used to get won’t be available this year,” Anderson said. “Most likely, they’re going to have to cut someone.” He said the district would be sending out letters by the end of May, and they would find out for sure at that time.
According to Anderson, discipline problems were likely to return to previous levels if the team was disbanded. “The young people coming up from the middle school, sometimes they think they’re already high school students,” he said. “It’s a period when they don’t really know where they are — they’re not bad kids. They just need someone to keep an eye on them.”
Marvel said she was responsible for supervising in-school suspensions (ISSs), and compared its effectiveness to out-of-school suspension (OSS). “People tell me all the time, they’d rather have OSS,” she said. “It’s like getting a day off.”
Not so in-school, where Marvel said she kept her wards isolated from their friends, and busy. “If they don’t have any homework, I’ll give them some,” she said. “We do have a few repeaters, but for the most part if they come once, they don’t come back.”
Steele noted how impressed he was that the students had come to him first, willing to go about staging a protest in the right way. He called that respectfulness the biggest thing the behavior management team had done for the school.
Steele credited a handful of students for organizing the rally, senior Melissa Alesi among them.
Alesi said she and the others had put up posters around the school — “Save Behavior Mod,” “Keep Hallways Safe” — to let everyone know what was going on, and she was pleased at the results. “I didn’t think this many people were going to turn out,” Alesi said.
As she pointed out, some of the students at the rally had been through the disciplinary program themselves, and Steele agreed. From honors and academic classes to at-risk students, he said everyone had kind of teamed up to keep the school safe.
Alesi noted two positive aspects of the behavior management team — (1) it gave the administrators a set of eyes and ears, people to chase smokers out of the bathrooms and break up fights, and (2) it gave students who might be on the brink of violence someone they could feel comfortable enough to talk to about it.
She said the peer mediation side of the equation worked along the same lines, helping students solve other students’ problems before they got so bad that someone had to talk to a teacher about it.
Steele noted the high tech security system at the new high school, but said behavior management was something completely different. “Cameras and computers can’t put an arm around a person, talk to them if they’re upset,” he pointed out.