Sharpen your pencils, get your notebooks in order, the school year is almost here. 

And for five diocesan elementary schools, getting ready for this school year means preparing to implement the PAX Good Behavior Game Program, which is designed to give students the skills necessary to reduce risk factors associated with drug use and addiction.

The New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Service (OASAS) awarded over $1.6 million in funding to teachers across the state to implement the PAX Good Behavior Game Program. The Albany Diocesan School Board received $165,000 of the award to implement the addiction prevention program in five Catholic elementary schools throughout Albany, Troy, Schenectady, Ballston Spa and Glen Falls. 

“I definitely see it as a positive coming into our schools,” said Amanda Goyer, grant administrator for the Office of Prevention Education Services. “All of our students and all of our staff in the entire schools are going to benefit from it.” 

Goyer is a former teacher and principal of St. Mary’s Academy in Hoosick Falls. “I would have loved to have this program” in the classroom, she said. Because of PAX’s focus on classroom structure “it’s going to help those teachers build those skills, and for those teachers who have great classroom management, it’s only going to build on what they have so far.”

Goyer will work between the Catholic Schools Office to help implement the program — the Diocese is one of 11 providers chosen statewide — and the state to relay data and updates.

The PAX initiative will be implemented for the 2019-20 school year in 25 classrooms serving kindergarten through fourth grade at Blessed Sacrament School in Albany, Sacred Heart School in Troy, St. Kateri Tekakwitha School in Schenectady, St. Mary’s School in Ballston Spa, and St. Mary’s/St. Alphonsus School in Glens Falls.

Since 1999, the PAX Good Behavior Game has been used in classrooms across 38 states and in various countries around the world. The game has shown both short-term and long-term benefits with improving classroom performance, mental health outcomes and substance use prevention. The program has also demonstrated decreased tobacco use, reduced alcohol use, decreased illicit drug use (such as opioid abuse), and a lower level of overall services needed for substance abuse. 

“It reduces those risk factors when the kids get to middle school and high school, and that’s a big thing with everything going on in our kids’ worlds today,” said Goyer. “The earlier we can reach them with an intervention program that’s going to have positive lifelong effects on them is excellent.”

At the start of the school year, each classroom will set their “vision” for what it means to demonstrate good behavior in a classroom. “Students create their PAX vision of what it is to be good students, what it is to see PAX behavior and what’s not PAX behavior,” said Goyer. Good behavior could be raising your hand to ask a question; bad behavior could be calling out or interrupting others. 

For teachers, the PAX game can easily be integrated into their teaching schedule without having to interrupt class time: “(Teachers) may say, ‘We’re going to play the PAX Good Behavior Game and I’m gonna set the time for 20 minutes,’ and then the teacher goes on to continue her math lesson or his social studies lesson,” said Goyer. “So as the game is going on they’re watching for the not-so-good behavior.”

Other elements of the game includes “PAX quiet” where if their teacher blows a harmonica, students are to listen and put two fingers in the air, or “granny’s wacky prizes” where the group of students who behaved best during the game receives a reward, such as a free minute of drawing time. 
One of Goyer’s favorite elements of the program includes “tootle notes” where students and their teacher can write positive notes about each other and their classmates. 

“If this program helps just one kid, then it’s worth it, it really really is,” Goyer said. “I’m really excited. I can’t wait for the school year to get here so we can start seeing how this is going to change our students’ lives.”