Erika Barron
Advertising Account Executive
November 28, 2022 // Diocese

Preparing Students for a More Positive Tomorrow

Erika Barron
Advertising Account Executive

Discipline is never a fun task in school administration for the teachers, or the children. But what if there was a way to change that? What if there was a way to reinforce positive behavior, even while correcting the misbehaviors?

At St. Vincent de Paul School in Fort Wayne, teaching children to be good citizens through the program Positive Intervention and Supports (PBIS) is part of the daily routine. Born out of the public school system, PBIS is a method that some Catholic schools are now choosing to handle discipline. The program is about focusing more on what the child is doing right, finding ways to praise the children for making good choices, helping them take ownership of their good behavior, and redirecting less-than-positive behaviors in a healthy and positive way. The system is based on a three-tier approach, along with the motto, “Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible.”

The first tier in the system teaches expectations to the children. When a staff member at St. Vincent de Paul sees a student being safe, respectful, or responsible, they may choose to award the student with what they call a “Panther Buck.” These are little colorful sheets of paper that the student then writes his or her name on, along with whether they were acknowledged for being safe, respectful, or responsible. This step allows the student to take full ownership of their job well done. 

“It is very common language. We use behavior-specific praise with the kids. We use their name, the behavior, and tie it back to how we are impressed by them,” said Paula Murphy, the PBIS councilor at St. Vincent de Paul. Students may then use the Panther Bucks on a tangible item, whether it be cookies for the class or a toy. “The sticky frog is the most requested toy,” Murphy said with a smile.



Fifth-grade teacher Ashley Wilson spoke about how the Panther Bucks have become a way for students to learn by example at St. Vincent de Paul. When the children are younger, she said, they tend to do the right thing because they want to gain the Panther Bucks they see their friends gathering. When the children are older, they are doing the good deed not because they gain a reward, but because they have learned that it is the right thing to do.

Often, older students at St. Vincent de Paul will spend their rewards on a treat for their class or perhaps a toy for a younger sibling. “This creates wonderful acts of charity,” said Zac Coyle, Principal of St. Vincent de Paul School.

Still, some children may have a harder time following these rules, and this is when tier two is implemented. This may include a parent-teacher conference or a small group session with other students. Here the “Panther Praise” system is implemented, including daily check-in with Murphy. This helps the students to focus on what they did right during the day and what they can improve on. When the student graduates “Panther Praise”, they have a full graduation ceremony with friends and games. “We have about 10 graduations from the program a year,” said Coyle, “This is not about punishment, it’s about resolution.”

The third tier for children still struggling with difficult behaviors would then be a plan specifically tailored to that child for behavioral correction. While not used much, the school still uses tactics such as detention,
but with a more positive spin, reminding the students that they are not “bad” kids, and hopefully the next time they will make a better choice. The program is so successful at St. Vincent de Paul that many parents have implemented it at home. The undercurrent through the entire system is positivity. “Even a negative can be worked into a positive,” Murphy reflected.

Molding respectful young children of Christ today who grow up to live this same way is so important to St. Vincent de Paul School that they are hoping to train other Catholic schools within the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in the PBIS System. If interested in learning more about PBIS, please contact Zac Coyle at [email protected].

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