Albert Town High and SWPBIS still making a positive impact on the school culture

After schools reopened for full face-to-face learning in September, school leaders from Albert Town High in Trelawny shared their experience

Donna-Marie Rowe
Albert Town High students
19 October 2022

As schools reopened for full face-to-face learning in September, three school leaders at the Albert Town High School in Trelawny shared their experience with a UNICEF-supported Ministry of Education and Youth initiative that has improved student behaviour and school culture overall. The School-Wide Positive Behaviour Intervention and Support (SWPBIS) framework, which is designed to reduce the level of violent behaviour in schools is being lauded by teachers as game changing. The school started this journey of positive reinforcement from as early as 2013. However, COVID-19 has forced them to re-engage students while ensuring that their teachers reactivate this culture of ‘catching’ a youngster doing something right.

School administrators spoke enthusiastically about SWPBIS and that it continues to yield good results. The school uses the acronym RICH to reinforce positive values as follows: Respectful, Industrious, Courteous and Honest. In fact, classes have also been renamed after these values!

photo of Janice Skeen Miller and Olando Sinclair at Albert Town High
From left: Olando Sinclair, Dean of Discipline and Janice Skeen Miller, Vice-Principal

What was your lightbulb moment and what are the key takeaways from the training?

Janice Skeen Miller, Vice-Principal: What that (SWPBIS) training did for us, as a school, was that it helped us to become more aware of how to use the positives to change negative behaviour. The school is now looking at what students are doing that is right and using that to help them to realise when they go wrong. We had our core values displayed around the school compound indicating to students what they should do and not just what they should not do. They see the signs posted. They say, “Do this” instead of, “Do not do”. This helped to reinforce in them that this is the expectation that the school has of me.

As a society, we tend to rank what it is that people are doing that is wrong. And what we find is that, yes, we tell them that is wrong, but it doesn’t change anything. But when we look at what they are doing that is right then maybe they will say ‘Okay, this is what is expected of me’. Instead of telling the individual what is not expected, we need to tell them what the expectation is. When we let them know what the expectation is then we see that they realise that this is what my teachers want me to do.

Olando Sinclair, Dean of Discipline: Many times, we are using our personal experiences when our parents told us not to do something, but we are in a quandary … because we know what not to do but not what we are to do. With the SWPBIS framework we were able to conceptualise the rules and policies and share with our students and stakeholders at large and focus on what we want to see. We addressed it in the positive not the negative. If something was even wrong, we don’t address it in the negative, we address it in the positive. So that for me was a lightbulb moment.

What did you put in place to implement SWPBIS?

Denise Hughes, Guidance Counsellor: We got a team in place and got persons to buy into the programme. We got all persons on board – teachers, staff members, parents, community personnel – so we could get the programme rolling and created a positive environment because it was a bit negative before. We got students to participate and to feel good about where they were coming to. We created class competitions, and a thumbs up reward system where we actually reward students for their good behaviour.

Albert Town High thumbs up card
Thumbs Up Cards

Thumbs Up Cards and vouchers

Denise Hughes: When a student turns up with an item that was found they will receive a Thumbs Up Card. Five Thumbs Up Cards qualify them for a lunch voucher. We highlight these behaviours in devotion that this person feels confident, and it will impact their self-esteem … and the students are recognized in devotion.

How hard was it to get the buy-in?

Denise Hughes: It wasn’t very hard at all.

Olando Sinclair: The team not only included teachers. There were parents on the team and the business community. We involved a wide cross-section of the community and of course the students. And with all these persons representing the various stakeholders, the buy-in was pretty good.

What was it like before?

Olando Sinclair: They (students) were more aggressive towards each other and authority. We had the rules but when we tried to enforce (them) there was aggression and high levels of indiscipline regarding their uniform, damage to school furniture, a lot of fights and graffiti on the walls. There was no respect for the environment and to authority. Weapons were also brought into the school.

Also, in terms of where the parents were concerned, some parents were having challenges with the children and some of the parents were even aggressive towards the school, especially when we tried to enforce the rules. There was an antagonistic relationship before SWPBIS.

How are you restarting the initiative after the COVID-19 closure?

Olando Sinclair: We have to be adaptable with the programme. What mattered in 2013 and 2014 are not as relevant now as then. That level of aggression is not there but we are seeing some other things creeping up now. One thing we know is that we have some issues relating to the value that is placed on education. There is the get-rich-quick culture. ‘If I can get rich quick, once I have a little money, then I don’t need school, we don’t need teachers.’ This is the sentiment of some students.

There is a shift in interest … it has to be attractive for it to continue to work. We are looking at what else we can include to make it attractive. And this is where the business community comes in so that they will sponsor some of the prizes and make it more appealing so that the incentive system works. And we are in the process of putting together a merit system that would lead up to graduation … we want to focus not only on academics but also on character development.

UNICEF video about Albert Town High School and SWPBIS from 2016

How is the school combatting this culture?

Olando Sinclair: We are in the process of trying to understand (it). The children … we have to involve them. They have a richer understanding as to what is happening. They have the peer influence. Getting the children involved in it … that would help us to put an effective plan in place and that takes some work and will help us with adaptability.

The priority is to combat some of these new issues, which have to do with loving to learn.

How did capacity building sessions help staff and prepare for reopening?

Olando Sinclair: At the school level we did several capacity building sessions where we focused on the psychosocial wellbeing of teachers and to include students and parents as well. We also did some sessions on online pedagogy to ensure that teachers are coping with online and prepare us to return to the face-to-face. Because both teachers and parents were a little bit skeptic and anxious about sending out children.

We prepared our ICT policy which included online discipline (and) how we can support our teachers in carrying out the business of education online because we know that there were a few issues relating to indiscipline and so the policy covered how we would treat with those issues. We had sense of where we are going and preparing our stakeholders on the school level. And we devoted some sessions on psychosocial wellbeing.

What were your school’s CSEC passes like this year?

Janice Skeen-Miller: The CSEC passes this year were fairly good. We have just one subject that we were concerned about: Mathematics was our weak point, so we are working on it.

Share one success story?

Janice Skeen-Miller: I’ll share with you about one young lady who continues to be a beacon wherever she goes. She came out of a toxic environment but at school we were able to mold her into a role model: she served as a prefect, then head girl and SWPBIS ambassador.

Anything else?

Janice Skeen-Miller: One thing that stands out for us, I don’t walk and see graffiti anywhere. Prior to this, as soon as you paint, they would mark up the walls. We are not seeing that happen anymore.

What’s UNICEF doing?

Schools like Albert Town High are leading the way as we create mechanisms to share experiences on institutional approaches that can prevent, reduce, mitigate and respond to violence. All children deserve to feel safe at school and the SWPBIS framework gives school teams guidelines to do just that within each of their own unique contexts.

UNICEF continues to work closely with the Ministry of Education and Youth (MOEY) Guidance and Counselling Unit to re-invigorate SWPBIS schools through strategic trainings. They are also encouraging other schools to access SWPBIS resources and join this collaborative journey to establish positive school cultures in which students, teachers, parents and the administration respect and support each other. To this end we are also supporting the following aligned interventions:

1. Rolling out a free-to-access online, asynchronous Leadership for Safer Schools course through the National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL), training participants on the SWPBIS framework and other violence-related issues – using examples from Jamaican schools.

2. Launching a safe school website with the MOEY as a resource hub for all content related to preventing, mitigating, reducing and responding to school violence.

3. Continuing tele-mental health services with the Ministry of Health and Wellness and Flow

4. Training in psychosocial first aid in partnership with the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) through the UNICEF Return to Happiness course launched in 2021-22 and the soon-to-be available socio-emotional learning course, The Heart of Teaching.

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