FARMINGTON — A new grant awarded to Farmington schools will help expand a behavior program that turns classroom curriculum into a fun and positive game for students.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation will award a $450,000 grant to help the school district expand the PAX Good Behavior game to two additional elementary schools, Esperanza and McKinley. Right now, Animas, McCormick and Bluffview elementary schools already have the program.

The PAX Good Behavior Game is a classroom management program that rewards students for refraining from negative behavior like aggressiveness, disruptions and inattentiveness. Developed by the PAXIS Institute, the program increases student academic time by decreasing and discouraging disruptive behavior.

PAX Good Behavior Game coordinator Tamara Taylor is working with two other instructors, Michelle Childers-Beck and Joy Eiland, to train fourth- and fifth-grade teachers on the program. The program currently only covers first- through third-grades.

"This will help our students become more successful," Taylor said. "It's heartwarming and great to see all the fun and happiness the students are having while they are learning."

In the program, teachers structure classroom lessons as a game, said Jody LaRue, a second-grade teacher at McCormick.

LaRue demonstrated the game by having students read for five minutes at their desks. She set a timer for five minutes and played a harmonica to signal the start of the game.

The students win the game if they have less than three acts of negative behavior or "spleems." During the five minute period, only one student earned a "spleem" for not reading the book on his desk.

With only one infraction, the entire class won a "granny wacky prize," allowing them to growl like animals at the zoo or "grumble" at their desk for 15 seconds.

The "granny wacky prizes" are actions or behaviors not usually allowed in the classroom while the teacher is teaching.

LaRue said her students have pretended to act like zombies, played tag and danced to music as prizes for completing the game.

By rewarding positive behavior, the game teaches students about delayed gratification and focusing on the activity at hand.

"It helps them keep their focus and makes them responsible for their actions," LaRue said.

The teachers assign "spleems" by teams to avoid singling out students in front of the whole class for the negative behavior.

LaRue said by using teams, the students learn to be accountable for their actions because it affects their team's chances of winning the game.

"It's not singling them out and making a child feel bad," LaRue said. "They recognize it's not something they're suppose to do and that they cost their team a spleem.'"

LaRue said she has played 45-minute games with her students, and they can sit still and focus for the entire time.

"It has increased my teaching time. I sometimes get 45 minutes (of teaching) at a time," LaRue said. "Before, we would get about 15 minutes (of teaching) in."

LaRue has also learned how the good behavior game affects traumatized kids. She shared a story about how one student at the beginning of the program had been living on the streets, bouncing in and out of foster homes and was acting hostile towards school staff.

"He was a very angry child, he came in threatening to kill us and we had to contain him all the time, and this child is now a model student," LaRue said.

Augusta Liddic/The Daily TimesMcCormick Elementary School second graders sit in the hallway under the PAX Tootle Board on Wednesday.
Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times McCormick Elementary School second graders sit in the hallway under the PAX Tootle Board on Wednesday. (Augusta Liddic)
"We wanted to turn what would have been a disaster in education, a disaster in his life, to an positive experience."

Joshua Kellogg can be reached at jkellogg@daily-times.com; 505-564-4627. Follow him on Twitter @jkelloggdt.