MONTANA – Governor Steve Bullock visited a second-grade classroom in Billings to engage in a demonstration and announce a major expansion of the PAX Good Behavior Game to 100 more public schools in over 30 communities statewide.
“We have the responsibility to create nurturing learning environments for our kids and confront youth suicide, substance abuse and peer pressure,” Governor Bullock said. “The PAX Good Behavior Game teaches emotional resiliency and is the only prevention program proven to reduce the impact of adverse childhood experiences. I’m pleased to see even more teachers across the state have access to this tool that will help ensure our kids are successful.”
The expansion was made possible through a $2.1 million federal grant that Governor Bullock announced on May 31, 2019. As a result, over 1,100 more teachers are being trained this fall. Previously 47 Montana schools were trained on the Good Behavior Game.
Schools in the following communities will either implement the program for the first time or add to an existing program, including: Billings, Helena, East Helena, Dillon, Harrison, Alder, Great Divide, Twin Bridges, West Yellowstone, Havre, Townsend, Drummond, Phillipsburg, Browning, Heart Butte, Box Elder, Pryor, Wyola, Hays-Lodge Pole, Rocky Boy, Seeley Lake, Missoula, Broadus, Hammond, Choteau, Garrison, Bozeman, Glasgow, Kalispell, Chester, and Joplin.
Several school districts are expanding the program broadly. For example, the Billings School District will now have the program in all of its 22 elementary schools where an additional nearly 480 teachers and administrators will receive the training, as well as after-school program staff.
Billings Superintendent Greg Upham said teachers throughout the school district have embraced the Good Behavior Game. “Teachers who have already been trained, and implemented the program report how it truly helps students in the classroom develop the social skills they need to deal with the many pressures they face in today’s world,” Upham said. “I’m proud of the effort and dedication our staff have put forth on this project.”
Billings teacher Karissa Gordon of Ponderosa School there are many reasons why the GBG is effective. “Students thrive with the program because they feel supported as their peers and teachers work towards a common goal,” Gordon said. “It gives students opportunities to learn emotional regulation, while positively framing mistakes as a crucial part of learning to be better all-around citizens.”
In Dillon, approximately 80 additional elementary school teachers and staff finished their training in August, just ahead of the new school year. When first implemented in Dillon in the fall of 2018, the impact was immediate and extensive according to principal Greg Fitzgerald. “There has been a noticeable change in how students treat others with respect and kindness that I have not witnessed in my 17 years as principal,” he said. “We’re thankful for the opportunity to expand are current efforts on implementing a program that we know is making a huge difference.”
Helena and East Helena have trained an additional 60 teachers. Katy Wright, a Montessori teacher in Helena, has been using the Good Behavior Game since last year. “Finally, there is a program that understands social skills are learned and practiced like academic skills,” she said. “There’s no more shame, no more power struggles, just supporting kids in learning pro-social behaviors.”
Sheila Hogan, director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services, said the agency was overwhelmed with the response to the recent funding opportunity. “Montana educators know best what will work in the classroom, and will yield the positive results with the children they spend hours with every day,” she said. “This response clearly demonstrates that teachers throughout Montana believe in this program, and we fully support them in this endeavor.”
The Good Behavior Game provides teachers with research-based strategies focused on creating a classroom climate that facilitates productivity and teamwork and encourages development of resiliency that will continue over the course of a student’s lifetime.
Funds are being used for training school personnel delivered by the PAXIS Institute, the organization that developed the program. PAXIS will also offer community strategic planning and development training to educate communities about the program and assist with sustainability plans. School personnel will receive in-person training as well as additional resources including stipends for classroom supplies and ongoing personal support, mentoring, and coaching. Grant funding will also pay for continued program evaluation performed by the University of Montana.
The Center for Children, Families, and Workforce Development (Center) at the University of Montana is evaluating schools already using the program with suicide prevention funding allocated during the 2017 legislative session. The Center will continue follow-up research to determine effectiveness of the program as more schools are funded. Part of the evaluation plan is collecting student behavioral data as well as pre-and post-test surveys where teachers measure behavioral, skill, and attitude gains from the beginning of the school year to the end.