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NM teachers use game that works by speaking the language of children

By Maggie Shepard / Journal Staff Writer

Published: Sunday, October 8th, 2017 at 8:06pm
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A new era of public schooling is coming to some parts of New Mexico, one that holds hope that from kinder, more humane classrooms come children less likely to turn to suicide, risky behavior or drugs.

The changing agent? A game.

That game is the PAX Good Behavior Game, called “the next big thing in child and adolescent psychiatry” by the academic journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America. For some teachers already using the game, it has been as revolutionary as the research backing it suggests.

Since some of that research shows that the skills the game builds help combat later drug use, New Mexico just spent about $800,000 of a federal $9.5 million anti-opioid grant to purchase hundreds of kits, at several hundred dollars each, and training for teachers, aides and administrators to bring them into the PAX fold.

The program is in place in at least 38 schools across nine counties and reaches about 10,000 students, and could reach more once an indigenous version is launched in Native American schools.

PAX 101

PAX, Latin for peace, uses silly experiential prizes to incentivize good classroom andinterpersonal behavior. Cooperative PAX kids then create calmer, more friendly classrooms that provide opportunities for self-reflection and self-regulation, skills proponents say are necessary for making healthy life choices.

Teachers learn to frame conversations with kids in “logic” they understand and in a way that focuses on desired behavior and not undesirable behavior.

“We have to accept that the systems and methods haven’t always been efficient or kid-logical,” PAX founder Dennis Embry, of Tucson, said at a recent teacher training in Española.

“Take for instance when teachers say, ‘Keep my hands to myself.’ Well, where are they? They are attached to me. That makes no sense at all. So we say ‘PAX hands don’t hurt.’ Now it has a deeper purpose than compliance. It’s purpose driven, not rule driven.”

So “be quiet” becomes “use your Zero Inch voices,” referencing a spacial zone for how loud your voice can be to be heard. There is also a 3-inch voice for whispering, a 10-inch voice for classroom talking, and a 10-foot voice.

Mary Proue, a third-grade teacher at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in south Santa Fe and an ardent fan of PAX, says children are taught accompanying hand signals so they can see and then know how to regulate their voice accordingly.

“You can just say, ‘We are at a Zero Inch Voice’ and they know. Otherwise you are kind of just yelling over everyone,” she said.

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