West Jefferson High School becomes part of program to improve school culture

Panther paws will be used to reward and encourage students to engage in positive behaviors and acts of kindness at West Jefferson High School.

Positivity and an overall improved culture will be the focuses of West Jefferson High School this year.

The shift comes as the result of a program known as Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, high school principal David McDonald said.

“We wanted to improve the feeling of our culture in our school,” McDonald said. “Kids don’t often learn from people they don’t like.”

Katie Bubak-Azevedo, the director of the Idaho Positive Behavior Network, said WJHS is among 40 schools selected randomly to be part of a project known as RK-12: Rural Schools Research. RK-12 is a 4-year research project funded by a grant from the National Institute of Justice, according to the Boise State University website. Bubak-Azevedo said 2018 was the first year, in which three schools in Homedale were tested as part of a pilot project.

The goals of RK-12, according to the website, are to “understand factors associated with the implementation of positive school-wide changes, and to examine the impact on climate, safety, behavior, and other outcomes for students.”

The money from the Department of Justice covered travel, lodging and training for five West Jefferson High School teachers who were able to attend training over the summer, McDonald said.

He said it will also cover the cost of mentors coming to the high school to follow-up with the training and help with implementation.

Bubak-Azevedo said while some programs have a “script,” PBIS is meant to be adapted to fit the unique needs of individual schools.

“It’s a framework, so schools are creating their own framework based on their own needs,” she said. “They’re doing something that fits their context, their needs.”

At WJHS, that means “panther paws,” greater communication between faculty and administration and students and the addition of a spirit store.

McDonald said “panther paws” are how teachers will be reinforcing positive behaviors, such as moving out of a fellow student’s way or helping a teacher pick up a dropped item.

“A lot of times those kids don’t get rewarded for little things,” McDonald said.

Students can then spend those panther paws at the school’s spirit store, which McDonald said is another new addition.

“We’ve got a couple of hoodies and some sweatshirts … but we’re still looking to add some of the smaller things,” he said.

He said the store will have two locations — one in the old gym’s concession stand and one in the old ticket booth in the new gym. The old gym location will be exclusively for student use while the location in the new gym will be available to members of the public as well, he said.

“We just want to provide (parents) with more opportunities to have school colors,” McDonald said.

McDonald said faculty and administrators have consulted student council members about the changes and the changes are based in part on their input. He said the groups will continue working together to ensure decisions made include the student voice as the school continues implementing PBIS ideas.

“(PBIS) is mostly towards the students and making sure the students have a good experience at the school,” McDonald said.