The Mystery About PBIS

Sara Beale

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, reputation is defined as: “a widespread belief that someone or something has a particular habit or characteristic.” Reputation means a lot to most people, and it can speak volumes.

Looking back, I was quite hesitant about transferring to “The O” considering its poor reputation. We were “the bad school,” and that wasn’t necessarily something I was looking forward to being associated with. Of course after arriving here, Overlea came to become home, and frankly, one of the best schools I had the pleasure of attending.

But what makes Overlea’s reputation so much worse than that of other Baltimore County public high schools?

Good behavior here at Overlea certainly isn’t at its peak, and perhaps, like any other school, there is always room for improvement. But are we really bad enough to be deemed “the bad school?”

Some outsiders would say yes.  So, for arguments sake, let’s say for a moment that our reputation precedes us, and we really are “the bad school.” What is our administration and teaching staff doing to combat these ill-behaved high school kids?

After digging around on the BCPS website for half of my fourth mod class, I finally came across something that could possibly aid me in answering these questions: PBIS. Which could have essentially answered more than half of the questions I had about Overlea’s supposed behavior problem, except I had no idea what it was.

I wasn’t alone in my confusion. After speaking with several of my peers, not a single one of them seemed to know what this elusive “PBIS” was. Confused, I decided to do what any good reporter would do. After skimming the BCPS website, I found that PBIS stood for “Positive Behavior Interventions and Support.”

The website explained it as “a broad range of systemic and individualized strategies for achieving important social and learning outcomes while preventing problem behavior.” Basically it’s a set of guidelines for eliminating bad behavior and rewarding success in schools, offices, or other public institutions. It gives specific directions on essentially every behavior based scenario from how to encourage it, to how to correct it or redirect it.

“PBIS is being implemented in a small proportion of the schools within the United States,” states the website.  “However, the Maryland state Department or education has seen the value of this program… Baltimore County in particular has made a commitment to this program.”

BCPS website clearly highlights its thoughts in regards to PBIS. In fact, Overlea isn’t the only BCPS high school that makes use of PBIS. Kenwood is just one of a few high schools in the area that has this as a component in minimizing behavior.

“We have a clear tiered approach to address behaviors and the expectations are clear to students… We are currently averaging two less referrals per day at this point in the school year versus the same point last school year,” says Kenwood principal, Mr. Powell. “We consider it a major factor as we utilize the opportunities to celebrate students, their consistent hard work, and achievements.”

It’s clear that PBIS is a major factor at Kenwood, however if Baltimore County Public Schools are so committed to implementing this very specific framework throughout our schools, why haven’t half the students I spoke with at Overlea heard of it? Shouldn’t this be something our student body is more educated on?

Certainly we can’t be committed to something that the vast majority of the school population is utterly clueless about. There were still so many unanswered questions. So hoping for some insight, I made my way to the office to find someone who was educated on PBIS.

“What’s PBIS?”

Mrs. Ferro chuckled at me. “What’s ‘PBIS?’ I have no idea what that is,” she responded.

“Mrs. Ferro, you work here. Surely you have to have some idea of what is it,” I insisted.

She shook her head and gave another slight chuckle.

“I have no idea what PBIS stands for. That’s why I asked you,” she said.

She then scolded me for not knowing myself what it stood for, and for being out in the halls, and told me to make my way back to class.

Baffled that even a staff member was uninformed on this topic, I figured the only way I’d gain information on PBIS is to speak with someone higher up on the educational food chain.

“It’s designed to help students get on the right track,” explained Mr. Covert.  I sat in the Assistant Principal’s office as he explained to me all the final unanswered questions that I couldn’t gain from the website.

“The idea is to support students in their growth process and behavior, and not always be so quick to discipline, but help them see the other side of positive behavior, and what rewards it gets them in terms of support and success in school.”

He told me that most of everything the school does about this behavior has to do with PBIS ideals.

“When you walk in the front of the building their names (students doing well) are recognized on a poster across from the front office, as well as in our school acronym, SOAR.” SOAR stands for “Safe, opportunistic, academic, and respectful.”

Alright then, so that answers one question. PBIS is–believe it or not–all around the school. However, that still doesn’t answer the bigger question: Why don’t the students know what PBIS is?

“I’m kind of new to this school,” I told Mr. Covert.  “So I’m still not 100% sure how things work around here, but why do most of the students around here not know what PBIS is?”

“The big thing about PBIS at our school is that it hits certain pockets of students. We have mentor groups like the ‘IT Girls’,” he informed me.  “So if a student isn’t involved in these programs they may not know quite what’s going on, but it’s a huge factor in many programs here.”

Well, I guess that made sense. Not everyone knows about PBIS because not everyone requires such guidelines to that degree. It may play a huge role, but this role is essentially one that works behind the scenes to make our school a better place for everyone.

So suppose for a moment that other more esteemed schools did in fact view us as the “bad school.” Does that really matter? Look at this institution in which we reside, and the student body as a whole. Others may try to desecrate our so-called “reputation,” and regard us as heathens, or ill-behaved children to say the least, but why should we accept this assertion?

We have people like Mr. Covert, and many more school officials working to make this the best school it can be. Our hard working staff members, and effort should be what defines us, not our “reputation,” and this prosperity which is attained through our effort would not be reached without PBIS to guide us.