“Chill safe zone”
“Safe, caring, respect”
Those are the words that Southbridge Academy students Haily Coburn and Joniel Sanchez-Ferrer offered when they were asked to describe their school in three just three words.
Sanchez-Ferrer and Coburn have thrived in the environment of Southbridge Academy, which is housed at 25 Cole Avenue.
Southbridge Academy is a therapeutic high school serving students who need something different than a traditional high school. The school supports students through therapeutic and student-centered approaches, such as flexible scheduling and “anywhere anytime” credits.
Students at Southbridge Academy benefit from smaller class sizes, individualized care teams, and a high staff to student ratio. Additionally, they benefit from individualized learning plans developed through their relationships with others, resulting in a deep understanding of who they are by faculty and support staff.
Sanchez-Ferrer says that he used to be “an F student” but he now shows pride in his achievement and growth at the school. He has been on the school’s honor roll and with the support of a leadership class at Southbridge Academy, he has become an encourager of his peers as well.
Asked what he attributes his improvement to, Sanchez-Ferrer says that the supportive environment of the school and clear expectations help him to achieve his best in school.
“I like it because it is a safe environment. We get things done, everyone is here to support you,” Sanchez-Ferrer says. “And I like it better when I work for a good grade.”
Haily Coburn is also a student at the school who has thrived in the supportive environment of Southbridge Academy.
At Southbridge Academy, Haily has found an environment where she can be her best academically and socially. Since she began at Southbridge Academy, she has found a balance of challenging academic standards and a supportive community of learners.
“If you need someone to talk to, you can find that,” Coburn says about the environment at Southbridge Academy. “They do what they can to make you feel safe.”
Coburn gets a sense of accomplishment from her improved academic standing. She appreciates clear expectations and a challenge, alongside the social support from peers and adults at the school.
“They push you to do hard work, but I know they are there to help me out,” Coburn says of her teachers at the academy. “There are rules for me to follow and I know what they are.”
Coburn has taken this expanded confidence and sense of pride into the basketball court and softball field as well, joining team sports in Southbridge. This is the first time she has been part of an athletic team. During the school year, she always looked forward to practices and games.
The success story of these two students at Southbridge Academy is directly tied to the role that PBIS, or Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, plays at Southbridge Academy and at each of the other public schools in Southbridge.
Southbridge Public Schools uses PBIS to create a culture and climate that supports learning. PBIS is used in across the country in a wide variety of communities, but it is customized to the unique environment at each particular school or district. In Southbridge, each school adopts behavioral expectations that are guideposts for behavior and PBIS supports for students at that school.
At Southbridge Academy, the behavioral expectations that guide the school day are expressed by four standards: respectful, responsible, ready to learn, and safe.
Lillyvette Perez, School Adjustment Counselor and PBIS Coach at Southbridge Academy, says that integrating PBIS supports into the Southbridge Academy experience has been key to providing an environment that promotes both social-emotional wellness and academic achievement for students.
PBIS creates a daily conversation about the behavioral expectations at each school, and behavior reflecting those expectations is rewarded. As a result, students encounter predictability and consistency at school. Teachers and staff uphold the predictable expectations.
Behavioral expectations are not just as a list of rules that are delivered at the start of the school year. Rather, they represent an ongoing experience where behavior living up to those expectations is rewarded on a regular basis.
“It is a constant conversation with the students, so not only is it integrated into the lesson plans, but as we interact with the kids, it becomes a part of the day,” explains Perez.
For example, the expectation that students are “ready to learn” is broken down into specific actions. Being ready to learn might mean that a student has all of his or her materials ready for class. Students learn many examples of each PBIS value and adults recognize and reward behavior that is aligned with expectations.
Perez notes that teachers and staff at Southbridge Academy encourage conversation about the behavioral expectations and that PBIS supports are woven into the school day.
The process creates an environment of trust and allows staff to learn more about each student’s needs as the students learn how to rise to behavioral expectations.
“As we get to know them and they get to know us, they trust us more and we can understand how to teach them,” Perez says.
As the 2018-2019 school year came to a close last week, Sanchez-Ferrer reflected on his accomplishment at Southbridge Academy in the 2018 - 2019 school year.
“When I first started the year, I had goals to work hard, to get better grades, to focus on my work. I’ve come a long way,” Sanchez-Ferrer says.
Coburn also reflects on her experience at Southbridge Academy as the school year ends.
“What they’re doing is putting me on the path to do the right thing,” she reflects.
Both students plan to find a summer job as school lets out.
These conditions - the emotionally supportive and predicable environment, consistently articulated expectations, and the standards that adults have for students - have worked well at Southbridge Academy. Students have an opportunity to thrive as they begin to learn what they are capable of.
“Our expectations are expanding, so the expectations of the students are also expanding,” Perez says.
For more information about PBIS, you can visit PBIS.org or reach out to leaders at your student’s school. For more information about events and activities at Southbridge Academy and Southbridge Public Schools, see our website, our official Facebook page, and our district newsletter.