The STARS are shining on the high school campus

As part of the STARS program students are asked to stay to the right when walking in the halls. This keeps the hall traffic moving smoother during passing periods. (Keshera McKnight photo)

One way halls, now standing signs, remember the code signs and teachers standing in the hall more often than ever were just a few of the new things noticeable to students as they arrived on the first day of school this year. The atmosphere of the high school quickly changed as students and faculty began adjusting to the new ideas presented as part of the STARS program or Positive Behavior Intervention and Support.
“I think it’s a positive change. Most of the students, even though it’s a change they really do seem to be adhering to it. I don’t get a lot of ‘I don’t want to’ or just really rebelling against it. I see a positive change because we’re talking to them in a positive manner,” assistant principle, Yolanda Green said, “So we’re not meeting them with aggression so we don’t get a lot of aggression, which doesn’t mean it doesn’t occur, but it is less.”
In 2009 during the first two weeks alone, there were over 200 referrals. At the start of this school year, there weren’t even 100 written.
“I think this year as a whole has a really good vibe to it. A lot of positive energy, but there’s a lot of new stuff going on and the student body seems excited about this year. The teachers seem excited about this year and I think that when those kind of good things are happening then that spills into everything else,” teacher David Williams said, “Usually at this point of the year I’ve had at least one negative interaction with a kid where they were asked a very simple thing and they got angry for no reason. And that hasn’t happen. I mean everyone is pretty much on the same page like no big deal ‘I’ll fix that’ ‘yes sir’ and it’s nice when small things don’t have to become big things.”
The positive aspect of the program does not just stop at referrals, it even helps with school spirit.
“The program is very motivational towards good conduct. It helps keep a lot of our students out of trouble, which helps student council plan more activities for the school. And that helps school spirit!” Senior Class Vice President LeBria Mikole said.
The three-year program, first concentrating on common areas like hallways and the cafeteria is designed to first focus on the 85% of students who make good choices. The second year the focus will be on the next 15% of students to reinforce support, and lastly, the final 5%.
“[STARS] is kind of like our logo, or our brand, so to speak, to have everything focus around a common term such as STARS, such as STARS in the hallway.” Principal Mike Chrietzberg said, “Each letter stands for an expected or positive behavior. So why stars? So that we can make Duncanville High School the best learning environment, the best teaching environment, for everyone here.”
PBIS is not just a program within the Duncanville school district; it’s across the nation as well. It started with elementary schools and has now moved to the high school after the success seen in the lower grades.
“You notice more smiles, more people seem to joke with teenagers. It’s not always a command or directive, it’s more of a request, you know, tuck in your shirt, put your I.D. on. We’re asking. And we’re not asking for something you shouldn’t do, and I feel that more adults are feeling less stress.” Mrs. Green said.
A change that the STARS program has brought into the school is more teachers are standing outside of their classroom to help build relationships.
“Well one of the positive things I have seen is more teachers in the hallway and that’s probably the best thing about it. We’re out and it’s a good chance to build camaraderie as teachers,” Mr. Williams said. “It’s also a good time to start to get to know the students who are coming our way and even the kids who aren’t ours to keep an eye on things, and then to start building some relationships with those people. If you see a kid everyday who’s happy and then one day you notice they’re down, it gives you the opportunity to say “hey are you okay? Do you need something?” it’s good. It’s good to be out in the halls and observing.”
The change has not only provided a chance for teachers to get to know their students better, but it has also helped the flow of traffic with the addition of a one-way hallway and traffic signs.
“It used to be a lot harder to get to class on time. People were always just standing wherever they felt like so they could have their conversations, which made people like me late, regardless of how much we tried to get on time,” senior Michelle Garza said, “STARS changed that because it encouraged people to walk AND talk, not just stand around in one place, and it taught people to walk on one side, so it’s not nearly as jumbled during passing period as it was before.”