Monday, June 22, 2009

MD: Students get a chance to pie the principal

Faculty enjoys the whipped cream

June 21, 2009

Baltimore Sun,0,5922667.story

Cynthia Dillon and Shiney Ann John stood outside Oakland Mills Middle School splattered with whipped cream and couldn't have been happier.

The two administrators agreed that a pie-throwing contest - where up to 20 lucky students in each grade level got an opportunity to throw whipped cream pies - was the perfect way to end the school year.

Students were picked during a raffle where they traded in tickets they had accumulated for good behavior throughout the year for a chance at a slew of prizes, including the pie-throwing contest. In a last-minute surprise, students chosen during the raffle were able to pick one friend to also throw a pie.

The activity was a reward connected to the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program. To lower disciplinary problems, PBIS encourages adults to be positive role models and offers constant reminders of proper behavior through posters and other materials placed throughout the school. Students who exhibit good behavior and follow the rules are rewarded with incentives such as the raffle at Oakland Mills Middle.

Proponents say PBIS can have a measurable impact on a school. Suspension rates at some PBIS schools can drop anywhere from 50 percent to 70 percent within two years of implementing the program, according to experts.

"It has established a consistent standard of conduct," said John, the school's assistant principal. "Behaviors are not a mystery. They are clear with what happens when they do not follow the rules."

Oakland Mills Middle has had a decrease in office referrals, physical altercations and suspensions since implementing the program three years ago, according to Dillon, the school's principal. The school has also seen an increase in attendance, and academic performance since then, she said.

PBIS was started 20 years ago for special-education students by professors at the University of Oregon and was expanded in 1999 to include all students. Maryland has been on board with PBIS since the program was expanded to mainstream classrooms, according to George Sugai, who helped craft PBIS at the University of Oregon. He is now a professor at the University of Connecticut and co-director of the Center of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

Since joining, Oakland Mills Middle has been recognized each year with the highest honor for PBIS schools - the golden ribbon. The accomplishment is much more impressive because of the age of the students, Dillon said.

"Middle school kids try and flex their muscles and stand up for what they think is just," she said. "They do a really good job following the rules here."

John agreed. "They are the best kids. I don't mind if they throw pies at me."

At times it wasn't apparent who enjoyed the activity more - the students or the staff.

Amanda Brewer, a health teacher, was pumped when it was her turn to face the firing squad.

"All right! Bring it on," she said as she put on her hair net and goggles. "Sweet! I get to preserve my eye makeup."

After she was splattered by several students, she exclaimed: "That was really fun!"

Tre Holly, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, leapt over a bench on his way to line up for a chance to launch a pie at a staff member. He lucked out and was paired with John. He eyed his target - who was making faces to egg him on - and launched the projectile in the air, making contact with the side of the administrator's head. His classmates cheered wildly as a huge grin spread across his face.

"It felt real good to get the stress out since I can't do it in class," Tre said.

Lawren Henry, a 15-year-old eighth-grader, ignored the line that dictated where students could throw the pies, and walked right up to John to smash a pie in her face. His classmates were ecstatic as some students ran to capture the image with their digital cameras. John chased him down and eventually gave him a big hug, which in turn left a whipped cream imprint on his shirt. Both laughed heartily.

"I had to do it," Lawren later said. "She's the best principal ever. I had a fun time. I got to throw a pie in the face of a principal. Who wouldn't want to do that?"

The eighth-graders were the first group of students to leave Oakland Mills Middle with three years of PBIS training, which has left a sentimental feeling with John.

"They are dear to us," John said, shortly after hugging Henry. "They can cross the line."

Dillon said she was extremely pleased with the inaugural event.

"It was a hoot," she said. "You couldn't do this with kids who don't enjoy school. It was fun-spirited and a fun way to share in the end of the school year."

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