2011-10-20 / News

New program to ‘focus on positive behavior’

BY KEN SHANE


Once an actual garden with plants, the Lawn Avenue School is now home to a rock garden, where students have “planted” challenge rocks. Principal Kathy Almanzor said that every time a kid passes through the center hallway, they are able to see what each challenge word is. 
PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Once an actual garden with plants, the Lawn Avenue School is now home to a rock garden, where students have “planted” challenge rocks. Principal Kathy Almanzor said that every time a kid passes through the center hallway, they are able to see what each challenge word is. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN According to Lawn Avenue School Principal Kathy Almanzor, it was a trip to Nashville that provided the impetus for the school’s ROCKs program that has been successfully implemented at Lawn Avenue.

This summer a group of educators from the middle school attended a conference in the Tennessee city. While there, the group was impressed by a program that had been put together by a Colorado middle school, and came back to Jamestown determined to do something similar here. “We got excited,” Almanzor said.

According to Almanzor, the program is based on a national organization called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

“It’s been around for a few years,” Almanzor said. “Different schools use it and they incorporate it in different ways to focus on positive behaviors with students, and for adults to be more consistent by clearly explaining expectations, and having students adhere to them.”

The Lawn School educators came back to Jamestown this summer and devised a matrix of behavior for the students. The name they gave their program was an acronym for the major points that they wanted to address.

“We decided on Lawn ROCKs,” Almanzor said. ROCKs is an acronym utilizing the words respect, owning, challenge and kind.

“We knew ‘respect’ was part of it,” said Almanzor. “‘Owning it’ was really important to us, about each of us owning our piece, and our responsibilities. We used the ‘C’ from ‘rise to the challenge.’ For the ‘K,’ of course, we always talked about being kind.”

“So that’s been our theme,” she added. “We kind of went with ROCKs because Jamestown is an island, and it’s sometimes referred to as ‘the rock.’”

At the meeting following their decision to implement ROCKs, the educators were looking for ways to physically manifest their new program. Lawn Avenue School features a garden in the center hallway. When the building was constructed in 1955, there were skylights in the ceiling, allowing for plant growth. When the school was renovated, the skylights were closed, and there was difficulty in keeping plants alive. Last spring a rock garden was installed, using boulders supplied by Watson Farm.

“We were thinking of what else we were going to add,” Almanzor said. “At our next meeting we came up with the idea of everyone having a rock and we would place those rocks in the garden. Then it went further and somebody came up with the idea of putting a challenge word on it. That way it’s visible. Every time we passed by through the center hallway, kids would be able to see what their challenge word is. It really turned out beautifully.”

In Rhode Island middle schools and high schools, it is mandatory to set up advisory groups for students. At Lawn Avenue School, eight to 10 students meet with an advisor once a week for 30 minutes. The students stay with the same advisor from the time they enter the school in the fifth grade until they finish the eighth grade. “It’s more about building relationships. It’s for helping students learn to set goals for their life,” Almanzor said.

The advisory group faculty presented the idea of challenge rocks to their students in their group. They talked about the various challenges that students have in their lives. The kids practiced printing their graphics so they would know how it was going to look on their rock. Eventually, the students were called down with their advisory group to place their rocks. Each student’s rock is next to the rocks of others in their group.

“The kids really put some moving words [on their rocks], and very personal,” Almanzor said. “Each kid really looked at what their challenge was.”

Words like “willing,” “calm” and “balance” appear on the rocks.

Almanzor hopes that the rocks will remain in place permanently. Recently some sand has been added to the garden to give it a beach feel.

“It’s the whole idea of building a positive culture,” Almanzor said. “When you’re in middle school, sometimes it seems cool not to follow the rules.” She added that the school is building a culture – and putting it out there with the kids – that students and educators alike really love their school.

“It’s that whole buy-in about being proud of who we are at Lawn Avenue School, that we do rock,” Almanzor said. “That is reinforced daily by teachers and certainly comes up in advisory each week. The student council has taken it on. They’re coming up with activities around this. We also get input from parents.”

Almanzor reports that discipline referrals have decreased since the plan has been implemented, though she acknowledges that it still too early in the year to know if that trend will continue. “There’s a lot of buy-in from the kids,” she said. “I’ve seen enthusiasm, and that’s very positive.”

It is not only the students that are enthusiastic. Almanzor recently received a note from a teacher’s assistant. The note read, “Just want to say that the rock garden is beautiful, inspiring and a great idea.”

Viewing the rock garden has proven to be an emotional experience for some. “People were almost teary,” Almanzor said. “It was very beautiful.”

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