MANSFIELD -- When one of Elizabeth Bucci’s students is having a bad day, they can let her know without saying a word.

A social emotional check-in app allows students at Mansfield Middle School and Mansfield Senior High to notify a teacher if they are feeling angry, stressed or frustrated.

“It's decreased negative behaviors from our students, because we're already coming at them from the side of empathy and saying, ‘I understand that you're not having a great day today, what can I do to help you?’ ” Bucci said. “When your students realize that you're on their team, that changes everything.”

Hannah Roble, an intervention specialist at Mansfield Middle School, said the app helps teachers know how to approach their students, especially ones who aren’t comfortable expressing their emotions out loud.

“Relationship-wise with my students, it's increased the ability that we have to sit down and talk to each other because I already know how they're going to come into the conversation or into the classroom,” Roble said.

The tool is just one aspect of the Mansfield City School district’s Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) program.

PBIS is a framework required for schools across Ohio. A PBIS framework includes strategies to teach and encourage positive behavior as well as systems for dealing with negative behavior.

"It's a very proactive approach to behavior, we are promoting positivity and fostering those skills that students need, reteaching behaviors, rather than simply punitive consequences," explained Dahni Reynolds, the district's board certified behavior analyst.

The Ohio Department of Education and Ohio PBIS Network recently recognized four buildings within the district for their PBIS implementation during the 2020-2021 school year. Sherman Elementary and Mansfield Middle School received the Silver Award; Mansfield Senior High School and Mansfield Spanish Immersion received the Bronze Award.

Bernie Redman, a second grade teacher and PBIS coordinator at Sherman Elementary, said it felt wonderful to receive the distinction.

"We put so much work in last year, really trying to turn the whole building atmosphere around and I think we nailed it," she said. "Just to be recognized amongst our peers and the board, it means a lot."

Schools and districts create their own PBIS systems, but each system must have four main components. Each framework must have data-driven decision making, multi-tiered interventions to meet varying student needs, systems to implement those practices and continual progress monitoring to make sure the system is working.

“Really, it's about using data effectively and managing these systems to meet the needs of kids,” said Stephen Rizzo, the district’s chief academic officer.

Each building in the district has a PBIS framework, along with a PBIS coordinator and team.

One strategy for increasing positive behavior is the PBIS store. At the middle and high school, students can earn up to five PBIS points from each teacher each day. Students can earn points by being respectful, responsible and safe. Those points can then be traded in for items like gift cards and “dress down days” -- a day where a student gets to skip wearing their uniform. Points are tracked in a PBIS app; each student has a login.

At Sherman Elementary, students receive high five stickers they can trade in for small prizes or a drawing ticket for a larger prize.

Redman said the school’s PBIS system has increased positive referrals. In the world of education, a referral typically means recommending a student for discipline or support services.

Positive referrals occur when a staff member actively notices and recognizes a child for their positive behavior.

“You can send in certificates and parents are notified that your child was caught being good,” Redman explained.“When they see that we're looking for the positive, they want to be that child. It's changed the atmosphere of our building.”

Reynolds said the district has seen a reduction in exclusionary discipline since implementing PBIS, especially in the four buildings that were recognized Tuesday evening. She added that those buildings have also been heavily involved in implementing social-emotional curriculum.

PBIS teams do a monthly analysis of student data on both discipline and positive referrals.

“I think it's important not just to say that you're implementing something. The evidence is in the data," Reynolds said. "You really do need to look at the data because things might need altered or adjusted."

“We look for trends, we look for areas that we need to target,” she added. “We also look at the positive referral data. We want to ensure that we're recognizing students of all races, genders grade levels, and disability identification with proportion; we don't want to be disproportionate in our recognitions.”

While much of PBIS focuses on teaching and recognizing positive behavior, a PBIS system also requires schools to have planned responses in place for when a student acts out.

For students with more intense behaviors or needs, that response might include bringing in a school counselor or partner agency like Catalyst Life Services.

“We're not ignoring that there might be behavioral infractions,” Reynolds said. “Rather than them being reactive just with a punitive consequence, we want to reteach the expected behaviors so that students learn an alternative way to respond.”

Support Our Journalism

People like you power our reporting about solutions to problems facing our region. Keep funding the whole story of our region by becoming a member today.

Staff reporter focused on education and features. Clear Fork alumna. Always looking for a chance to practice my Spanish. You can reach me at katie@richlandsource.com