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Federal Grant To Expand Classroom Behavior Training

A woman in a red sweater and dress stands holding a book in front a classroom of second grade students.
Kay Erickson
Yellowstone Public Radio
Ponderosa School second grade teacher Karissa Gordon demonstrates the PAX Good Behavior Game teaching strategy on September 11.

This summer Montana received over $2 million dollars in federal grant money to train more teachers in the state in the PAX Good Behavior Game. Currently some 11-hundred teachers have been trained in this strategy to help elementary students learn skills that can help them intellectually and emotionally throughout their lives.

"You are the best fifth grade class I've ever seen," Montana Governer Steve Bullock said on his Wednesday visit to Billings' Ponderosa School to see PAX Good Behavior Game in action. 

"We're a second grade class!" the students exclaim.

"You're only second graders? You act like you're fifth graders, you're so well behaved," Bullock says.

PAX is Peace in Latin, and the PAX Good Behavior Game focuses on creating a classroom climate that is peaceful and promotes productivity, teamwork and encourages development of resiliency through repetition and consistency.

Karissa Gordon, the teacher of the exuberant second graders, explains that PAX focuses on the positive and it focuses on building relationships.

"It’s not punitive, which is often different than some of the other models we see in classroom today. What this does is allow kids the space to make mistakes, as they will for the rest of their life, and to learn from them in a very safe and nurturing environment," Gordon said.

Bullock said this program is meant to help young students deal big emotions and challenges in a state with the highest rate of suicide in the nation.

"A child walks into a school building, and they are already carrying with them what can be five years of some really challenging situations. And part of it as educators, and as folks in government and others, is to say, 'How do we make sure that no matter what, a child walks into a school building with we can help both unwind some of that and build the possibilities moving forward,'" Bullock said. 

School districts large and small across Montana are using this program, including the 22 elementary schools in Billings, says the district’s Superintendent Greg Upham.

"This is an extremely proactive approach of a reactive issues that we’ve been dealing with and it is exciting to be on the front end of this" Upham said. 

The PAX Good Behavior Game has been in Billings since 2015, while some schools in the state have been utilizing it for nearly a decade. This influx of federal dollars will help to bring it to more school district both large and small.

Kay Erickson has been working in broadcasting in Billings for more than 20 years. She spent well over a decade as news assignment editor at KTVQ-TV before joining the staff at YPR. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a degree in broadcast journalism. Shortly after graduation she worked in Great Falls where she was one of the first female sports anchor and reporter in Montana.