Thurston Middle School honored for its well-behaved students

A state coalition of county education officials has awarded its highest honor to Laguna Beach's Thurston Middle School.

The California Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports Coalition selected Thurston as a "Platinum" school, one of 15 in the state.

PBIS is a framework that helps students succeed not only academically but behaviorally as well based on positive reinforcement.

That is not to say that under PBIS guidelines there are no consequences for rule violations.

Interventions can be tailored for groups or individual students who exhibit at-risk behavior, according to a news the release.

"In the past, schools have been kind of guilty of disciplining kids (in) a punishment-type mode," Jon Best, director of student services for the Redlands Unified School District, told The Sun newspaper earlier this year. "PBIS is a shift in the way schools and districts have, for ages, handled disciplinary matters. We can't expect a child to change how they behave unless we provide them a model for what good behavior looks like."

And that involves encouragement.

At Thurston, officials expect students to be SMART — an acronym for solving problems, making great decisions, achieving, respecting and being there and ready, according to the news release.

Students who demonstrate commendable behavior or achievement earn SMART cards, which can be traded for various rewards such as passes that take them to the front of the lunch line.

Also at Thurston, voluntary meetings of teachers and classified staff such as instructional aides, school psychologists and counselors are held every six weeks. Teachers may share classroom management tips, while aides could provide advice on modeling appropriate behavior during lunch.

Thurston has incorporated PBIS principles for 12 years, said Salberg, who is entering her sixth year as principal.

"We've gotten better and stronger each and every year," Salberg said. "The more united we are, the better environment it creates for everybody."

Thurston gets students involved as well. Once a month student leadership teams, such as the Associated Student Body, organize activities that encourage kindness. These could include writing inspiring messages in chalk on the ground.

This is the first year that the state coalition, established in 2011, has recognized schools for their efforts in the social and emotional realms.

"It's a lot of work to implement PBIS," said Michael Lombardo, the coalition's lead coordinator. "We wanted to acknowledge the hard work schools put into it."

This work also involves partnering with parents.

Regarding the recognition of the school, a subcommittee of county and local education administrators reviewed applications from schools and selected the honorees, Lombardo said.

To achieve "Platinum" status, schools must satisfy eligibility requirements, including having no more than 80% to 90% of students with one or zero discipline referrals and 5% or less of students sent home for disciplinary reasons, the coalition's website said.

The coalition also selected 41 schools for gold status, 173 for silver and 279 for bronze.

bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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