BURBANK, Calif. – Across the country, students are learning reading, writing, and arithmetic, but at Luther Burbank Middle School, they spend their mornings focused on three other subjects: respect, excellence, and community.

"Everything comes back to those three values," according to teacher Heidi VanKooten.

VanKooten teaches 8th grade U.S. history but this year, she has a new schedule and an additional assignment: 6th grade advisory.

She and students throughout campus now start each day with a built-in 20-minute period that’s used for a few different things.  

Some days, the focus is character education. Students have in-depth discussions about the core values and how they apply to their lives on campus and off. It’s part of Luther’s implementation of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS).

Dr. Oscar Macias, the school's principal, says Luther has been phasing this in for a few years now and the new advisory period is part of the change. 

“We are responsible for teaching proper positive behavior," Macias said. "We’re not just about the academics. We want to make sure every child that comes to campus here feels safe physically as well as mentally and emotionally.”

Students are reminded of the core values constantly. Signs are posted all over campus—overhead, underfoot, around every corner.  

“They kind of like implant it in your brain, kind of," said 7th grader Harout Krdanyan. He said he likes the new positive start to his day, especially on the days when advisory is 20 minutes of silent reading.

It's a nice break, he says, from the usual morning rush.

“In the mornings, I wake up and I quickly get ready and I eat breakfast and I come here and I kind of get more of like a calm 20 minutes to enjoy and kind of, yeah, mentally get ready,” said Harout.

It’s too soon to measure any impact now, but as the year progresses, VanKooten said she’ll also be able to use this time to check in with students individually and catch issues early—academic, social, and emotional.

“Middle school can be really messy, and so we want to support them as much as possible," she said.