Fifty or so miles east of downtown Los Angeles lies Santiago High School in Corona, California. In many ways, Santiago is like many suburban-area high schools. They serve a diverse student population, are proud of their 99.7% graduation rate, and offer a multitude of athletics and extracurricular programs.

Something else one might expect – and will – find at Santiago High is an exceptionally dedicated group of teachers and staff. Included in this team is Assistant Principal Melissa Bako.

Skills for Career & College-Ready Success

At just like so many high schools, the Santiago staff is deeply committed to the success of their students. And they know that building career and college ready young adults doesn’t begin and end with academics. It’s also about teaching students to be responsible and competent citizens. Students need these soft skills, they feel, when entering the workforce or post-secondary education. How is Santiago High doing that? It all comes down to the learning environment.

Building Up Students and School Climate

To create a schoolwide culture of positivity, staff and teachers use Hero. Initially, the high school implemented Hero to improve student tardiness. When Bako came to Santiago in the fall of 2016, she expanded the tool (which they’re using LCAP funding to support) and the school is using Hero’s positive reinforcement aspects to support a PBIS framework. Now, the Santiago staff is putting Hero to use to systematically build up and maintain a healthy school climate.

Every day, throughout Santiago’s classrooms and hallways, administrators, teachers, and support staff recognize the student actions that contribute to a positive school climate. Recognition comes in the form of Hero points, or Shark Bytes as they’re called at Santiago, which students earn for being present for office hours, showing responsibility, having integrity, achieving, being respectful, knowing themselves (“Be a Shark”), and demonstrating school spirit.

Student Incentives That Work

Points are instantaneously given and tallied digitally in the Hero app, making the process seamless and hassle-free for teachers. Since students can redeem their points for a variety of rewards, the points have become a real incentive – with students now actively seeking to earn points, says Bako. And they’ve become contagious as the adult recognition is encouraging positive student actions to spread across campus. “Be a Shark is becoming common language around campus and in our community. Compared to the 2017-2018 school year, we’ve tripled the number of Shark Bytes we’ve rewarded for positive, expected behaviors this past school year,” Bako adds.

Demonstrating School Climate Improvement with Data

While many educators struggle with documenting or communicating the way a school environment feels, Santiago is using Hero to measure school climate indicators. By fostering more students to demonstrate expected behaviors and school spirit, they’re actively encouraging school connectedness and engagement – key components of school climate. “By giving Shark Bytes for School Spirit, we’ve increased the number of students who participate on designated spirit days,” confirms Bako.

Positive Reinforcement for the Student Behaviors that Align with School Climate

Logging into the administrator side of Hero allows the school to instantly glance at their data and check on program fidelity – then see how the positive climate is impacting student discipline. “We are constantly looking at the number of Shark Bytes awarded by week, month, and quarter,” says Bako. “We are also seeing a decrease in the number of students seen for minor defiant/disrespectful behavior as recorded in our student management system.” And to demonstrate climate improvements over time for the district or other stakeholders, the school can use Hero to generate reports that highlight their success.

More Time for Learning

Another positive the school can communicate is that, partly because of Hero, they’ve gained back valuable in-class instruction time. Still using the tool to reduce student tardies, Bako says, “Hero has improved accountability and allowed us to start class right away.” She reports that “over the course of 3 and a half years, our unexcused tardies have reduced by 15%.”

Accountability among students is another indicator of climate, and by viewing their Hero program as a whole (tardiness and PBIS efforts together), the school has further evidence climate is improving. They’re configured Hero to report tardiness as a “negative” behavior, while all the other behaviors they’re reinforcing are “positive” ones. This produces a quick ratio of positive to negative student/adult interactions, which is instrumental to improving climate. “We have a 9.3:1 positive to negative ratio,” explains Bako – which is well beyond the recommended 4:1.

Such a high ratio also helps demonstrate teachers have bought-in to the school’s initiatives. “We collect data so that we can course correct as needed and maximize the impact the program has on students and staff,” Bako says. And at the end of the day, it’s helpful to have hard numbers behind all the positivity they feel.