Some children stepped off of school buses and others out of their parents’ car into the crisp November air. They hustled towards the entrance of the brick building; breath was visible, as was the warmth awaiting them inside.
Students were greeted by smiling administrators as they passed through the foyer and down the hall towards their classrooms. Morning announcements over the intercom reminded listeners of an upcoming assembly and the day’s lunch special.
The scenario is a common one. The circumstances are not.
Children attending The Providence Center (TPC) School do so because acute behavioral and emotional symptoms have prevented them from having success at conventional public schools. TPC School has created an environment that is both encouraging and refreshingly honest. The children understand that the goal is to develop skills that will allow them to transition into the public schools in their respective district, graduate or find work.
As a first-time visitor to TPC School, I was introduced to ‘Ben’ a student ambassador, upon my arrival. This young man, a member of the ninth grade, greeted me with a smile and a firm handshake; it was a genuine and friendly welcome.
Ben spoke articulately about his daily schedule and the layout of his classroom. He informed me that shortly we would be attending the school’s monthly awards ceremony, a town hall-style meeting in which teachers can recognize certain students for their attendance, punctuality, behavior, and overall progress during the previous month.
We took our seats in the cafeteria-turned-assembly hall, and as we waited for the proceedings to begin, Ben and I continued to familiarize ourselves with each other. I told him that I had recently graduated from college and that I began working for The Providence Center the week before. He offered his congratulations and reminded me that “it’s not easy to find a job.” I chuckled in agreement. Ben possesses an enthusiasm and maturity rarely found in someone his age, regardless of school or circumstance.
The beginning of the assembly came with student-voiced policy reminders; several hand-raised children took turns explaining the teachers’ expectations for themselves and their peers, with particular emphasis placed on “respectful, responsible and safe” behavior. These behavioral expectations are frequently reiterated as part of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS) system in place at TPC School. The goal of PBIS is to integrate the learning of positive behavioral expectations into the core curriculum. When implemented effectively, as at TPC School, children develop an understanding of behavioral expectations that remains consistent throughout all classrooms, grade levels and subjects.
“It’s very important to us that we create the right kind of environment for our students,” said Marty Morris, school principal. “We use a strength-based approach to make sure every child is getting the most out of their time here. The PBIS system helps students not only learn the expectations but understand why they exist. Communication is key.”
The first round of awards was presented to students who had attended every day of school during the previous month; attendance certificates with a gold seal indicate the student was both present AND on-time for an entire month.
“The awards serve as important pieces of positive reinforcement,” Marty said. “A lot of these kids come to us with a great deal of anxiety about school, so being here every day for an entire month can be a huge achievement. We want them to understand that we recognize their progress.”
When it came time for Ben to accept his attendance and punctuality award, the teacher prefaced the announcement of his name with “no big surprise here.”
Apparently, Ben hasn’t missed a day of school in more than two years – pretty impressive considering anxiety-induced truancy is one of most common reasons TPC School students are unable to attend a district school.
The next round of awards was given to the students of the month from the school’s classroom teams (early childhood, middle school, and high school.)
High school teacher Carl Wieting presented the student of the month for the high school team. He announced that my new friend, Ben, would be receiving the award for the month of October. He explained that Ben has demonstrated an excellent attitude and work ethic both in school and at his vocational placement. According to Carl, Ben’s consistently positive attitude and outstanding work ethic make him a pleasure to have in class.
As Ben returned to his seat after a spirited round of applause, an elementary-age student shot his hand into the air. Ben stopped.
Marty gave the boy permission to speak and he jumped up and stood in front of the audience.
In nervous excitement, the boy said, “I would just like to say that every morning Ben talks to me about school and helps me with my work, and he is really nice to me.”
The student then quickly returned to his seat.
As Ben walked back to the high school seating section, he was greeted with another round of applause and a few fist bumps. I looked at the young man sitting down next to me and finally saw what I know everyone else already did: an all-star.
A few weeks later, I returned to TPC School to attend the annual Thanksgiving dinner served on the Tuesday before the holiday. The cafeteria walls and tables were covered with festive decorations and teachers and staff members served an impressive array of food to students and visitors.
While this type of school event may not come as a surprise, the importance of the tradition cannot be overstated. For some students, this year’s TPC school Thanksgiving celebration will be the closest they come to the kind of meal that so many of us were fortunate enough to indulge in two days later.
Although I didn’t get a chance to see Ben, I did get to speak with a few of the other students I met during my initial visit to the school. I was thrilled some remembered my name, while others just said, “its the marketing guy!” Hey, I’ll take it.