Elek Pehm spent his summer getting ready for senior year and marching band at Sto-Rox Junior-Senior High School.
He feels confident that his class will have a positive year, but he worries about the younger students, who he says spent key years in pandemic lockdown.
“Seventh and eighth grade came in, they didn’t have the structure that sixth grade gave them,” Pehm said. “They missed a lot of the ‘finding your group.’”
He says it’s leading to bullying at levels he’s never seen before.
“Once we all came back, that’s when it really happened,” he said.
11 News sat down with principals Dr. Kimberly Price and Heather Johnston, who are now leading the high school and grades K-6.
They see the problems too, but this year, they say they have two new tools to make progress.
“We wanted a way to keep our kids in class, but we also want to make sure that we’re enforcing good behaviors, and we’re enforcing positive rules and we’re making our rules clear,” said Price.
The first initiative is in partnership with Pitt’s “Just Discipline Project.”
Every day, each classroom joins counselors, teachers and administrators in learning techniques for calming down and addressing anger issues.
“It’s vetted. We’ve seen that it works in schools similar to ours,” Price said.
Part of the approach includes renaming their suspension room the “reflected restore center”.
“It’s a space not for punishment, but to reflect and try to learn those appropriate behaviors,” Price said.
Their second program is called “Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports,” or PBLS.
It was developed in the 1990s and is meant to teach kids about behavior expectations and how to achieve them.
Price and Johnston say they look forward to getting started.
Last year, they saw bullying boil over time and again, but they hope these new programs can help put their positive message into practice.
“Affirmation is not going to work, playing, pretending that we have a program that’s a magic bullet isn’t going to work,” Price said. “But actually being honest about the issues, and then using tools that have worked. That’s a really good strategy. So that’s where we’re going (for) here.”
It’s something Price calls “well-vetted hope.”
“Yes, we are facing huge challenges, monumental challenges, for the sake of 1,200 amazing human beings. And they can’t afford for us to get get caught in the weeds and just say, ‘Oh my god, who’s going to help?’ That’s our job. We’re going to help,” she said.
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