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An almost universally accepted principle when it comes to raising children or managing kids in any way is that actions must have consequences. What a strategy called PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Strategies) does is make sure those consequences include rewards for good behavior as well as punishments for behaving badly.
Michelle Gossett, assistant principal at Forest Park's middle school, explained that, in addition to a "hierarchy" of progressively severe consequences for unacceptable behavior clearly detailed in a student handbook, positive student behavior is reinforced by a weekly raffle of items like "spirit wear" for students who have been "written up" for their good behavior.
Superintendent Louis Cavallo began implementing PBIS in District 91 schools in 2007. Middle School Principal Karen Bukowski said that enough data has already been collected to show that PBIS works. The statistics reveal, for example, that the number of infractions decreased from 1,504 in the 2009-10 school year to 1,347 in 2010-11.
At a presentation he made at the Chamber of Commerce and Development luncheon on June 12, Village Administrator Tim Gillian admitted to being skeptical about PBIS when he first heard about the program. Educated in Catholic schools in which "consequences" meant getting whacked with a ruler on the knuckles when a kid got out of line, he was converted to being a fan of the new strategy by the reports coming out of the schools in Forest Park.
Gillian said the decision to go community-wide with PBIS began with a recommendation from Mayor Anthony Calderone to "try something different in our approach to discipline issues with the young people of Forest Park." Grant money was received from Cook County about two years ago to pay for ongoing training for staff members at the community center, park, police department and library in the basics of PBIS.
While acknowledging that she had to alter the program to fit her situation, Susan Kunkle, Youth Services manager at the Forest Park Public Library, said, "The spirit of the program translates to the public library world incredibly well - much better than I expected when I went into this. Before, we would have cases where someone would end up having to leave the library for the day over something minor just because things would escalate. It's pretty rare for something to ever get to that point now that we've implemented PBIS, and actual suspensions are rarer still."
Kunkle added that PBIS has helped her task as a disciplinarian. "A program like PBIS really helps dissipate some of the tension and defensiveness that can complicate dealing with problem behavior," she noted. "The kids are just as accountable for their behavior, but they're put in a much better position to make choices. It gives the adults a way to address behavior from a more respectful place and helps us work on building positive relationships with our kids."
The police department has also gotten involved. Detective Mike O'Connor, FPPD's liaison for PBIS, was "converted" to the program by his kids, who were bringing home Panther Paws and Shark Bites - recognitions and rewards for good behavior - from school.
He said that for the last two years, police officers at the all-school picnic have been handing out raffle tickets to kids who were caught practicing the "three B's - be safe, be responsible and be respectful. "I remember watching a little girl walking with a group across the park. She stopped, picked up some trash and put it in a trash can. One of our officers, a very tall guy, approached her, leaned way over this little girl and handed her a ticket. Her eyes were wide. She took the ticket, and he said in a deep voice, 'Thank you.' He explained that she was being rewarded for being responsible. Once her friends heard this, they all started scrambling for any trash they could see. It was funny to see the normal officer-issuing-ticket scenario turned on its ear."
With positive reports coming from the park, the community center, the library and the police, it was natural for Gillian to approach the Chamber of Commerce and extend parts of the program to the business community.
As far as Gillian knows, Forest Park is the first village to implement this program communitywide. He and Cavallo, in fact, will be telling that story this summer at the PBIS national convention.
"This summer," said O'Connor, "police officers will be issuing a reward card, or a gotcha as we call it, to kids we see being safe, responsible and respectful in the community."