‘State of middle schools:’ Rewards keep students focused on the positive

Students at Eagle Valley Middle School line up Dec. 7 to receive prizes they’ve earned for good behavior as part of the school’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports system.

Students at Eagle Valley Middle School line up Dec. 7 to receive prizes they’ve earned for good behavior as part of the school’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports system.
Photo by Jessica Garcia.

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Students at Eagle Valley Middle School are using their digital points they’ve been earning from good behaviors in unexpected ways, Principal Lee Conley says.

They’re holding doors open to show courtesy or picking up books others have dropped on the floor. When they’re noticed for kindnesses, they’re using their earned points to purchase donuts for their peers or making positive phone calls home to talk about good grades or attendance.

This year’s “State of the Middle Schools” report from Conley and Carson Middle School Principal Amy Robinson to the Carson City School Board on March 26 tracked the triumphs of the district’s implementation of the Multi-Tiered System of Support at both campuses. Both administrators showed their school’s increases in community partnerships and future academic plans.

For Conley, watching student behavior change since going digital with Eagle Valley’s point system is the reward.

“If I’m a kid, I’m like, ‘I’m not spending my points to call Mom and Dad, I’m going to go get me a candy bar,’” Conley told the trustees. “And today, I got to see three kids call home … and for a kid to actually value what their parents think, to say, ‘I want to call Mom and Dad and say I’m doing a great job at school’ and tell them, that is something special.”

Robinson said CMS plans to move into MTSS tier three next year, which supports the smallest percentage of students needing the most focused academic and behavioral interventions. It’s an important step for Carson Middle.

“One neat thing about using this system: When we talk about the good kids, we tend to focus on the kids not having success,” Robinson said. “This rewards them and recognizes them to be able to do that, and it encourages them.”

MTSS incorporates the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports system that encourages the digital points method Eagle Valley has been accustomed to for some time now. The schools this year have started using it for their Stellar Students or CMS Gold programs and recognition rallies to celebrate growth in Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments or better behaviors, Conley said.

“We get stuck on that 5% or 10% of the negative a lot, and that takes 90% of our time,” he said. “This kind of allows you to get away from that and allows you to focus on the positive.”

Conley agreed MTSS as a whole has benefited both schools by refining their instructional and behavior practices through data-gathering processes.

“We’re data rich but poor at having the time to look at all the data,” he said. “MTSS has provided an opportunity by looking at what the individual kids’ needs are and what’s working for them and what’s not working for them. It’s a lot of new training and dedication.”

Community partnerships including the Carson City Sheriff’s Office and Carson Juvenile Probation offer services, gang workshops to help kids stay out of trouble, make better decisions and provide drug aversion programs, Conley said. Partnership Carson City’s advocacy clubs, including SOAR (Students Offering Additional Resources) at Eagle Valley, address the prevention of suicide, drugs, alcohol and tobacco as resources where staff doesn’t have the time to do so, Conley said.

District efforts to increase family engagement continue. Robinson said parent-teacher conferences began again in the fall at CMS in a post-pandemic era to talk about student scores, credits, attendance and other issues. Other events such as Back to School Night build a rapport and reestablish parents’ comfort level at their child’s school. Both schools are planning a springtime showcase, Robinson said, and incoming fifth-graders will be invited to a scavenger hunt.

Current challenges, Conley said, are filling vacant positions at CMS. Conley thanked district associate superintendent of human resources Dan Sadler for helping to fill all of his staffing needs at Eagle Valley. Carson Middle still has a few openings. Substitute issues are improving, Robinson said, but a shortage remains, which means full-time teachers have to fill in if there are no subs available.

Apathy toward academics among students and families remains a concern, Robinson.

“(Students are) just having a really hard time engaging and finding relevance in education,” she said. “It’s really hard when you have a conversation with a kid and they really have no idea what they want to do. They haven’t thought about it. That’s really challenging. I haven’t encountered that before as much as I do now. That’s always part of our goal — how can we engage kids?”

She said if kids are not engaged, they become credit deficient. The also don’t get the electives they want, which leads to a lack of buy-in and perpetuates the cycle of apathy.

Trustee Varner asked if the principals could put a percentage on how many kids are expressing this dispirited attitude toward school, Robinson said it would be about 10% for those who are more severe. For students who are receiving F’s, she said it might be about 20%.

“The F’s don’t bother them,” she said. “And teachers are trying real hard to come up with ways to incentivize them.”

While Conley said the school’s general chronic absenteeism rate has been dropping, without offering specific data, there still are too many students coming in tardy and tend to be the same people doing so, and Robinson agreed for CMS.

Plans for Eagle Valley next year include offering an advisory for every student, continue intentional scheduling to help with best placement for students and refine its MTSS tier two supports and develop tier three interventions, Conley said. CMS plans to use its interventionist to identify student needs and provide support and add more interventions classes in English language arts and reading and customize its social-emotional learning curriculum for communication skills, social media use and other topics, Robinson said.

Conley ended the presentation by offering praise to the district for supporting new teachers.

“I think we set our teachers up for success and then I think all they have to do is take advantage of it and run,” he said. “…It’s a selling point for us now as well.”


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