October 18, 2021

School Notes: Hartford’s Dothan Brook School Wins Award for Positive Behavior Program

School Notes: Hartford’s Dothan Brook School Wins Award for Positive Behavior Program

By David Corriveau

Valley News Staff Writer

White River Junction — At Hartford’s Dothan Brook Elementary School, students, teachers, staff and parents are promoting climate change as a positive thing.

How positive? Last week, the Vermont Agency of Education named the kindergarten-to-grade-5 institution as an “Examplar School” for the third year in a row, for its systematic effort to create an environment in which students treat each other better and so learn better.

“It’s a team effort,” Dothan Brook Principal Rick Dustin-Eichler said on Friday, three days after Dothan Brook and 10 other elementary schools received the award during a ceremony at Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee. “It’s about having clear, consistent expectations throughout the building. … You focus on building a culture that teaches those expectations at all levels.”

The Agency of Education has been encouraging participation in its Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program for seven years, and Dothan Brook has been participating for six of them, Dustin-Eichler said. The agency reported last week that 39 percent of Vermont elementary schools are taking advantage of state training and guidance in the program, including frequent workshops.

Dustin-Eichler originally encountered PBIS during his final year as principal at Bridgewater Village School, and arrived at Dothan Brook as it was hitting its stride with the program.

“In the first year of implementation you work on developing expectations, on switching the mentality to focusing on the positive behaviors,” he said. “While there’s still a lot to do as you go along, it’s really an immediate impact on a school. Our goal is to create six positive interactions with a student for every negative one. You’re making (students) feel successful. You’re reinforcing the positive behaviors.”

Among the goals of that reinforcement is to prevent bullying before it starts. Not coincidentally, the awarding of Exemplar School honors to 11 Vermont schools last week came at the start of National Bullying Prevention Month.

“All behavior is a symptom of something else that’s going on,” Dustin-Eichler said. “ ‘Why is a student not paying attention in class? Why is a student getting up and walking around? Why is that student bullying?’ Throughout the year, we’re working on building those social skills that are needed so kids won’t want to bully.”

For more information about Vermont’s PBIS program, visit pbisvermont.org/.