$21M grant will bolster efforts to build positive school culture

A center co-directed by a researcher at the University of Oregon will be able to carry out its long-standing goal of assisting schools in creating welcoming and supportive learning environments with the backing of more than $21 million in new financing.

This article was first seen in Around the O, on November 6, 2023. 

More than $21 million in new funding will help a center co-directed by a University of Oregon researcher continue its longstanding mission of supporting schools in building positive and affirming learning environments.

For 25 years, the Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports has been helping schools around the country create learning environments and school cultures that allow all students to thrive. With the new funding from the U.S. Department of Education, the center can continue this work for five more years.

“We help educators make school environments more safe, positive, predictable and equitable,” said Kent McIntosh, the Philip H. Knight Chair of Special Education in the UO’s College of Education. “When we pay attention to the whole school environment, everybody can be successful.”

McIntosh co-directs the center alongside Heather George of the University of South Florida and Brandi Simonsen of the University of Connecticut.

The Center on PBIS is the longest-running center of its kind in the United States, serving more than 27,000 schools. Its framework is built on a tiered model of support. Rather than single out certain students with behavioral problems, the center first encourages steps that will improve the climate and culture across the whole school. Then, some students will receive more targeted support, and an even smaller number will receive intensive intervention.

Many of the interventions that help students with learning disabilities or behavioral challenges do better in school, like predictable routines and positive reinforcement, also help other students.

“When we do something that's really good for everyone, there will still be students who need more support,” McIntosh said. “But the number is smaller, so it makes it more doable to put those systems in place.”

For example, teachers can work with students to set rules around respectful behavior at school. Having clear, shared expectations, made with buy-in from kids, can make students more invested in their success. Those kinds of schoolwide approaches can decrease the use of punitive discipline strategies, like suspension or removing students from class.

The strategies promoted by the center are backed by years of educational research. The center supports schools in a variety of ways: via free resources available on the website, monthly webinars, an annual conference, and targeted support to state-level leadership teams working to implement the systems in schools.

In the next five years, the Center on PBIS will focus even more on supporting the mental health of teachers and students, providing resources to new teachers, and centering equity in their work, McIntosh said.

“We want to make sure that new educators are supported in doing their work,” he said.

By Laurel Hamers, University Communications
—Top photo: A teacher working with young students

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