Havre Daily News
Most people know "red light, green light" as a game played for fun, but at Highland Park Early Primary School, it also encourages good behavior. The light, which sits in the school cafeteria, is green when the children arrive. If the room gets noisy, it turns yellow and there is a whistle, telling the kids to use their indoor voices. The students are to stop talking if the light turns red - they can speak again when it returns to green.
"We haven't had any red lights this year," Highland Park paraprofessional Judi Kase said.
The kindergarten and first-grade students at Highland Park may not know it, but that fun feature of their cafeteria is part of a districtwide teaching method, the Montana Behavioral Initiative.
The philosophy may seem like common sense. MBI state coordinator Susan Bailey-Anderson agrees.
One tenet is that all students are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.
"It really is common sense things, but if you implement them, they can make a big difference," Bailey-Anderson said. "If you expect it, you have to teach it."
MBI has been in place in some Havre schools for the last five years. The system was used first in Montana in 1995, at five schools selected as model sites. It's now in place in about 240 schools, including Havre's three primary schools and Havre Middle School, said Bailey-Anderson.
MBI starts with a blueprint, which surveys the school to determine where the most attention is needed. Next, organizers find acceptable alternatives to inappropriate behavior. The general model is topraise good behavior rather than giving extra attention to bad behavior.
Work begins with kindergartners, when school employees and students act in skits showing the children the proper way to behave in all areas of the campus as well as on the bus. Students are also shown how to use playground equipment.
Each school adjusts the proactive efforts of MBI to fit their needs, Bailey-Anderson said.
At Havre Middle School, the focus is on how students act in the hallways and the lunchroom, principal Vance Blatter said. The students are shown the appropriate actions, then re-taught if needed. If bad behavior continues, then the student will receive detention.
Bailey-Anderson said the goal of MBI is prevention rather than punishment.
She said the philosophy is easier to teach in elementary schools because the students embrace the concepts more openly than high schoolers. Some high schools are included, but most "haven't gotten there yet." Havre High School is not included in MBI.
The schools come up with their own sayings as well as using ones suggested by MBI. An acronym used by Highland Park and displayed on posters throughout the halls is "brim" (be prepared, respect yourself and others, interact appropriately, move in a safe manner). Havre Middle School uses stroll (stay to the right, talk quietly, respect others and others' property, open pathways, litter in garbage, language appropriate for school).
"MBI is most successful when people such as teachers take (the) lead. But they also need someone supporting them," Karla Wohlwend, director of personnel and special services for Havre Public Schools said.
"It's a fun thing, too," Superintendent Kirk Miller said.
In spring, Highland Park had a large tree poster on the wall and well behaved students were given leaves to put on the tree to build it up. Highland Park has drawings for books, stuffed animals and other treats. The more positive behaviors equals the more chances to win.
"I like them to do it because it is right not for candy," Highland Park principal Jeff Blessum said. "They all want to follow the rules and do what is right."
Paraprofessional Judi Kase said Highland Park is ahead of a lot of other Montana schools. She said the main reason for this is that the principal has been extensively trained in MBI.
This is Blessum's second year at Highland Park. He first learned MBI techniques while working at a school in Great Falls. Kase and first grade teacher Ilene St. Marks went to Helena for a two-day MBI course put on by the Montana Office of Public Instruction at the end of September. They also went to a MBI summer institute in Bozeman. A total of 11 employees from Highland Park went to a summer workshop in Bozeman, including five paraprofessionals, four teachers, Blessum, the school psychologist and the transportation director. Some went for two days and some stayed for the week-long institute. The MBI summer institute trained about 1,000 attendees last year, said Bailey-Anderson. The training is continued throughout the next school year.
"I am amazed to see so many ideas discussed in the seminars that we already have in place," Kase said.
Among the tools Highland Park uses, besides the stop light for the lunch room, is having the kids freeze in place when they hear the bell after lunch or recess. They are to remain still until a whistle is blown indicating that they can walk to class. This helps prevent a mad rush.
While in the hallways, students and teachers use the quiet signal of a pointer finger over the mouth and a hand in the air to remind students to slow down and keep their voices down.
Highland teachers organize games on the playground to help keep kids active, show them proper sportsmanship and include students who may feel left out. School workers also lead walks around the school's grounds.
One of the coordinator's concerns is sportsmanship. She said coaches and athletes become role models and at times don't display appropriate behavior.
"I think Montana's communities are made around schools and sports teams," Bailey-Anderson said.
St. Mark said the concepts of MBI work well because children are taking responsibility for themselves. Kids respond well to the concepts and the positive reinforcement, Kase said.
Both teachers and administration see a difference in behaviors, Blessum said. Most data on MBI is only used schoolwide, so there is not much statewide. Bailey-Anderson said it would be like comparing apples and oranges to assess the program in the state, and that just doesn't work.
MBI gets funding from OPI, the Montana Board of Crime Control, Head start and grants through schools.
Bailey-Anderson, who works for OPI and "has a passion for working with kids with behavioral challenges," said she started the initiative because the state needed something positive for kids to help address high drop out rates and target at-risk kids. Many states have similar initiatives, but Montana was one of the first ones, she said.
MBI was borrowed from the Iowa Behavior Alliance, and Bailey-Anderson, along with members of the education community, also worked with the University of Oregon Positive Behavior Support Center and a consultant from Missouri. She said they took a lot of teaching tools and surveys and "Montana-ized" them.
"We're so proud to be Montanans that we have to make everything our own," Bailey-Anderson added.