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Compton Excels with Positive Action

The stakes couldn’t be higher for Compton Unified School District in Compton, California. It balances on the razor edge between community dysfunction and social progress. At times, the teachers’ work can be discouraging, but the payoffs are immense when they see progress in the things that matter most: academics and behavior.

For the 34 elementary and middle schools in Compton, that happened when they began to phase in the PA program, first in only Kindergarten, Grade 5, and Grade 7, and eventually in all Grades K–8. The whole educational system became vibrant, energetic, even fun, as students and teachers actively engaged in the life of the community. The schools and community are moving beyond dysfunction and despair to help and hope—one child, one classroom at a time.

“We’ve used the Positive Action program in the way it was designed. Lessons are taught about 15 minutes every day,” explains Saunya Ingersoll, the Compton Unified School District Prevention Coordinator. “I visit all of our classrooms, and the first thing I check on is the state of the kit: if it’s open and well-used or if it’s dusty, sitting under a pile of books. We insist that our teachers use the program because it helps us with our major tasks: improving our attendance, bettering our test scores, and decreasing our disciplinary referrals. We have wonderful outcomes.”

One kindergarten teacher uses PA concepts throughout the day in all her subjects. At another school, first grade teachers and students wrote their own PA song. One class of fourth and fifth graders wrote to their teacher, Mr. Watkins, to thank him for teaching them the best ways to act.

Watkins has been an enthusiastic and faithful implementer of PA. He says, “I like the Positive Action curriculum because it allows teachers to discuss issues such as self-esteem, respect, and hygiene in more detail than we normally would, which helps the students tremendously. Due to the daily reinforcement, my students’ behavior has improved immensely and, therefore, has made a positive impact on their academic achievement and attendance. My students now have a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses because they now have a new and positive concept of themselves.”

The changes in Compton middle schools are equally impressive. One school became a “Distinguished School” through the California Department of Education after adopting PA. Other schools report significantly lower disciplinary incidents. “Every school needs a character-building program,” adds Ingersoll. “We use Positive Action. We all want our kids to have the best—to be the best they can be.”