Upshur County School staff sees success after just one semester of good behavior program

The harmonica is used by teachers to get the class' attention when announcements need to be made.
The harmonica is used by teachers to get the class' attention when announcements need to be made.(WDTV)
Published: Jan. 31, 2020 at 6:16 PM EST
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The sound of harmonicas can be heard in classrooms throughout Tennerton Elementary School.

"You can think of it almost as a behavioral vaccination," said Dr. Kevin Junkins, a psychiatrist for Community Care of West Virginia.

Junkins and Upshur County School officials spoke with lawmakers Thursday about the results from one semester with the Pax Good Behavior Game.

"The most important, and probably the most glaring success we have had so far is our reduction in discipline referrals. Last year from August to January 29th, we had 176 discipline referrals," explained Tennerton Elementary Principal Tristen Gray. "This year, in the same time period, we have had 76."

Teachers use the program to teach kids self-regulation by reinforcing good behavior.

"It is okay to be rewarded for doing good, as opposed to being punished for being bad," said Principal Gray.

Norah Malone, a 5th grader at Tennerton Elementary, is a PAX leader.

"You have to follow the rules. If you make a mistake, just know tomorrow, you can just do it again," said Malone.

John Hopkins University researchers found that teaching children the skills of self-regulation, the likelihood of addiction drops.

"Not only does it help in the classroom in the short term, but children who are exposed to at least one year of the good-behavior game in elementary school have later life risk of opioids, later life risk of alcohol use. They have less risk of needing psychiatric services, and it is the only preventative school based system that is proven to reduce the risk of suicides," said Dr. Junkins.

He explained that a lack of self-regulation is common in people who have experienced trauma or abuse. That is why the harmonica is used to gain student's attention. The sound of a harmonica has proven to be a comforting noise as opposed to yelling.

The benefits of PAX are not just limited to students.

"It has evidence that shows it has decreased burnout and stress rates, as well as a decreased depression rates in teachers," said Dr. Junkins.

The PAX Good Behavior Game was first used three years ago in Braxton County. Since then, Clay, Lewis and Upshur County School staff have adopted the tool.