Through the Bains Better Behavior program, elementary paraprofessional Sharon Gabriel is helping children change their lives, one day at a time.
On a day-to-day basis, educators everywhere set out to achieve the impossible, but at West Feliciana’s Bains Elementary School, Behavior Therapeutic Manager Sharon Gabriel is taking the process of helping children succeed several steps further. According to one grateful parent, Gabriel possesses “the patience of Job and the kindness of a mother.” But kindness is only one item on a long list of tools Gabriel uses to change outcomes for the children in her care.
The Better Behavior at Bains program Gabriel runs at Bains Elementary provides structured early intervention for at-risk students, replacing routine disciplinarian action with alternative solutions such as one-on-one and group counseling, a rewards recognition system, and facilitating parental involvement. As Behavior Therapeutic Manager for Bains Elementary School, Gabriel serves as a mediator between teachers and parents, and works with students directly when a conduct issue arises.
“Every day I get up and enjoy coming to my job and making a difference in these children’s lives and helping my community, because by helping all of them, I am helping my community,” says Ms. Gabriel, who has more than twenty years’ experience as a paraprofessional educator.
From Better Students to Better People
Three years ago Gabriel recognized that students at Bains Elementary were receiving an abnormally high number of behavior write-ups and set out to do something about it. She developed the RTI (Retention to Intervention) Better Behavior at Bains program, modeling it after a similar successful initiative used in a New Orleans public school. The program enables Gabriel to act quickly to diffuse a situation—like a classroom disturbance or dispute among students—by removing them from the classroom, allowing teachers to continue the lesson uninterrupted, and working with the student(s) directly to understand the root causes of the problem.
By serving as an advocate and mentor, Gabriel builds relationships with her students, giving them an empathetic adult to turn to who is neither a parent nor a teacher, and by demonstrating that she’s already on their side through dismissing any preconceived notions students may have internalized. “I want to show them that they’re better than what people see or hear,” she says.
This approach does more than just improve the students’ behavior at school—it often carries over at home, positively changing the trajectory of students’ futures, and sometimes, that of their families, too.
“When I talk to Ms. Gabriel about my anger issues, we play games to calm me down and she makes me feel great,” says Amirie, a fifth grader at Bains Elementary who has been working with Gabriel since second grade. “I’ve gotten a lot better and now I know violence is not always the answer.” Soon to graduate to middle school, Amirie is reluctant to leave Bains because she enjoys working with Gabriel so much.
Fortunately, Amirie won’t have to worry about saying goodbye to Ms. Gabriel, since the instructor continues to work with students beyond their graduation from Bains Elementary. She makes regular monthly visits to West Feliciana Middle School to check in with students—something she plans to continue through their high school years, too. In addition, Gabriel helps students form supportive social circles by introducing them at Bains, making the often-scary transition to middle school less intimidating.
For fifth grader Diamean Brooks, Gabriel has helped to gradually improve his grades as well as his attitude, which has kept Brooks out of in-school suspension. “She’s helped me to stop talking back and focus on my grades, and showed me I don’t have to solve problems by myself,” says Brooks.
A Fresh Start
For parents and teachers alike, Gabriel is a godsend who routinely goes above and beyond.
“Having Ms. Gabriel there is such a relief because it takes the stress and detective work away from the teacher because she handles it on both sides,” says third grade teacher Ms. Latrista Mallard.
“Ms. Gabriel is someone who goes above and beyond to make sure our kids are straight. Although she could be just an ordinary worker, she does more. She’s a phenomenal, God-sent individual, and I hope God continues to use her to be a blessing to others,” says Tracey Sullivan, mother of four Bains students.
The Galloway family relocated to St. Francisville from Denham Springs after losing everything in the devastating floods of 2016. When he enrolled as a second-grader, their son, Matthew, initially exhibited behavior so disruptive, he was at risk of expulsion until Gabriel stepped in, delivering a complete turnaround.
“I could talk for days and never fully convey the gratitude I have for Ms. Gabriel. She worked tirelessly with Matthew,” says Mark Galloway, Matthew’s father, in a written testimonial. “At one of the darkest points while Matthew was in school, he said that Ms. Gabriel was his only friend. That was the truth—Matthew’s bad behavior had alienated him from the other students who had witnessed his angry outbursts, his willful disobedience, and his total lack of respect for authority. Yet, Ms. Gabriel carried on.”
Beginning With the End in Mind
“Ms. Gabriel really built this program from the ground up,” said Hollis Milton, Superintendent of West Feliciana Parish Schools. “ “We have so much academic intervention and we’re proud of that, but we really needed behavioral intervention, too. Some students struggle to find the way, and sometimes we struggle to help them. Ms. Gabriel recognized the need and she came to us and said, ‘I can do so much more.’ ”
Milton explained that once Gabriel began working with students, administrators and teachers quickly noticed the number and severity of behavioral infractions dropping. “Her approach is very holistic, very results driven,” he said.
At the end of each school year, Gabriel holds a banquet for her students to celebrate the progress they’ve made throughout the term. Although they couldn’t hold it last year because of the Covid pandemic, in 2019 West Feliciana District Attorney Samuel D’Aquilla spoke about how Sharon Gabriel’s intercession during students’ early years is preventing them from ending up in his office later down the line.
“By believing in children I change lives in a positive way and I can see the difference,” Gabriel says. “It’s a program that’s truly working.” Superintendent Milton agrees. “Less infractions means less suspensions,” he said. “Happier students equals happier teachers. It’s a flywheel effect and the faster that flywheel spins, the better our outcomes will be. Our goal is to build lifelong successful citizens, and this program is helping us to do that.”
To learn more about how the Better Behavior at Bains is helping West Feliciana students, or to support the program with a donation to Bains Elementary, call 225-635-6397 or click here to schedule an appointment. To receive more community success stories like these in your inbox, sign up for our monthly e-newsletter here.