Lisa Keating: Middle school changes – step in a positive direction |

Lisa Keating: Middle school changes – step in a positive direction

Lisa Keating

If Principal Sam Santillo has his way, next year, when you drive past Carson Middle School, you will gaze at a sea of prepubescent youngsters all dressed the same. In the fall, Carson Middle School will go through another transition as well: All staff and teachers will be trained in, and using, ‘Positive Behavior Support’ in their interactions with students.

Why? Santillo explained, “I feel that CMS is a positive school environment but we want to raise the experience to a higher level of atmosphere and environment. Positive Behavior Support is a behavior matrix that reinforces positive behavior and recognizes students for doing the right thing at school.”

Eighty percent of staff had to agree to these changes before Santillo moved forward with his plan. He got it: More than 90 percent signed on.

While there is no hard data showing increased school performance when students wear uniforms, research is beginning to indicate that truancy, fighting and defiance do decrease. It is believed that school uniforms promote a deeper sense of community because it “levels the playing field between the haves and the have-nots.” And, when kids look the same, they notice similarities they have with those around them. Popular at private schools for decades for this reason, public schools in many states are starting to catch on as well.

Most of us have more than a few war stories about our middle school years; it’s such a difficult time of life. Developmentally, middle schoolers struggle with identity confusion, peer pressure, wanting to be more independent from families and teachers, and exposure to drugs, alcohol and sex. Positive Behavioral Support and programs like it are gaining momentum across the country because they give kids tools for navigating conflicts, disappointments and peer pressure, and emphasize ways to stay focused on positive goals. There is a lot of reinforcement for using good coping skills and there is support and education for those who aren’t yet.

There will undoubtedly be a lot of criticisms and doubts about this bold move. Just to dispel a few myths: There will be ample financial supports so all students can have uniforms, the CMS staff is in support of this program, and other middle schools across the country with similar demographics to CMS are implementing comparable interventions and getting great results.

Change is hard and students will resist at first: It’s their job as preteens, after all. There will be bumps along the way, especially at first. But, if we let our fears of these things keep getting in the way of trying out good ideas, nothing improves. I applaud Principal Santillo and the Carson Middle School staff.

• Lisa Keating, Ph.D., is a Carson City clinical psychologist.