"People Don't Care How Much You Know Until They Know How Much You Care" --Author Unknown
The P.A.S.S. program "Positive Alternative to School Suspension" was created and named with the simple goal in mind to turn a negative situation into a positive learning opportunity! Formerly known simply as I.S.S. or "In-School-Suspension". The P.A.S.S. program was launched at Madison School District in 2016 under the supervision of Program Director; Paul Phillips and the Superintendent of Madison School District #321 Dr. Geoffrey M. Thomas. In August of 2017, I was invited by Dr. Thomas to offer a presentation addressing our decision to change the name of I.S.S. to P.A.S.S. The following contains excerpts from that group discussion with the Administrators.
In my presentation, I endeavored to clear up any misconceptions, invite comments, and answer questions about the program name change. Dr. Thomas opened the meeting with a generous introduction and brief synopsis of my presentation. Superintendent Thomas reflected on the cultural changes that have taken place in our society which paved the way for the P.A.S.S. Program. In his remarks, he explained how we have gone from; "Corporal Punishment being allowed in schools, to utilizing a more compassionate and understanding approach to meeting the disciplinary needs of the student and school." I opened my comments with a comment endeavoring to be somewhat disarming. I said; "The only real change we will be making is in the name of the program, not how it will be administered."
I explained; "Even from our earliest days, we began using a positive and encouraging approach to correct behaviors." I continued by sharing the guiding principle of our program is very simple and straightforward; "To not just punish the student for poor behavior, but to try and address the root of the problem". I continued my remarks by sharing a mindset we have emphasized in our program. I said; "Students crave kindness, understanding, and validation from caring adults. They need to know they are valued, esteemed and appreciated for the unique qualities they possess". I reminded the group that; "Many of these young people have unfortunate circumstances at home and their opportunity for validation may only come during school." I continued; "They need to know their actions are not indicative of who they are as a person."
I said; "For many students, the only positive moment they may have in their entire school day may be their interaction with you. If that is to be the case, I want it to be positive, encouraging and healing. Weather in the hallway or the classroom, what they really want is to be looked in the eye and reminded of their value and self-worth. They thrive on smiles, fist-bumps, attention, and compliments. They will accept and even appreciate constructive-criticism when it appropriately offered. I continued by explaining the following reality; "Sending a student to ISS instantly offers and promotes a negative connotation in the mind of the student and parent. Visions of isolation, orange jump-suits, and disapproving adults typically prevail in the minds of the student." I added, "Still most students realize their actions have consequences."
Essentially, the offending student is sent to a program he or she believes is created to be punitive in nature. They come into class realizing they are paying the price for their inappropriate decisions and realize that they must tow-the-line. At that point, I have their full attention and cooperation. When they realize that we really care about helping them to succeed, it is amazing to see what can be achieved through encouragement, setting and achieving goals, and developing a relationship of trust. One student put it best when she said; "It's like you give us permission to succeed and then we give ourselves that same permission" The truth is, once a student believes they can accomplish what they put their mind to, then the sky is the limit! They indeed also give themselves permission to succeed in other areas!
Over the years, we have monitored and documented the success of the PASS approach. Our documentation illustrates what happens when a student seizes that moment in time to invest in themselves. See Graph Their grades are immediately impacted and a majority continue down that path after leaving the program. Our documentation shows that most of the Students will not be "Repeat offenders" when they have tasted the fruits of their own success. In some cases, the Student's success was astounding! F's were turned into B's and A's, and these results were not lost on their Teachers, Parents and Administrative staff. Before long, many Parents and Teachers were asking if their student could be assigned to the PASS program for academic reasons. The students thrived in a quiet and controlled environment with few if any distractions.
Our program has always accepted a variety of Student situations ranging from "Rule-breakers" to students who just; "Need a break." The approach to addressing the needs of the student who has fallen behind in their grades may differ from the student assigned to the program for misbehavior. The student assigned to "ISS/PASS" due to rule infractions has the added component of community service. I truly believe that there still needs to be a punitive element to misbehavior. Students generally understand and accept that for what it is. It just doesn't make sense "Punishment" should be the entire focus of their time in detention. What have we really accomplished by making a student pick up trash or sweep floors all day long? "Especially with the likelihood that the offending student is already behind academically?"
I concluded my remarks sharing my approach to addressing student needs. I said; "My personal Motto as the P.A.S.S Director is to ensure every student who walks into my classroom leaves feeling better about themselves than when they first came through the door. "Yes", I said; "I will hold them accountable for their actions, and offer appropriate counsel and correction as needed, but in the end, they will know we care about them as a person of value and worth. That is something I am passionate about and hold myself personally accountable for. Through taking a more holistic and nurturing approach, I have seen lives change for the better and have indeed been personally blessed beyond measure." In our recent School Accreditation Committee final reports, the ISS Program was given rare praise by the group.
They concluded; "Observations and interviews affirmed the effectiveness of the In-School-Suspension program as a vital component of the educational purpose and direction of the school" It should be noted that the decision to change the name from "ISS" to "PASS" was discussed shortly after the Accreditation Committee report was received. I ended my presentation by sharing with the group a comment I truly believe in. I said; "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care" I then turned the time over to Dr. Thomas for some final thoughts. In his closing remarks, Dr. Thomas reiterated the Accreditation Committee findings and echoed a portion of a letter he wrote in support of changing the name of the program from I.S.S. to P.A.S.S.
"I agree that a change of programmatic name is in order. I much prefer utilizing the Positive Alternative to School Suspension or PASS vs. ISS. I do wholeheartedly support the program. The incredible results have been witnessed across the board at our secondary schools by virtue of the fact that fewer kids are needing to be recommended to our P.A.S.S program. Let us not forget what the discipline landscape was before the implementation of PASS. Numerous kids were escorted out of school, a lingering punitive mindset prevailed instead of a nurturing one. Instead of receiving the one-on-one counseling and listening ear they needed kids were merely disciplined. Behavior was not changed it was simply punished. I never want to return to those roots as we have made tremendous progress and lives have been changed for the better" Dr. Geoff Thomas
Over the years I have accumulated hundreds of comments made by students who appraised their experience in the program. The following is a compilation of some of the more poignant remarks shared by these young people. I ask each student to reflect upon their experience on the last day of their assignment in PASS. I always preface this assignment by asking for their honest assessment of their time spent in P.A.S.S. See Student Comments:
Madison School District #321
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