Teacher Carmen Chevalier said the PATHS program has been effective in improving student behaviour in her classroom.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Teacher Carmen Chevalier said the PATHS program has been effective in improving student behaviour in her classroom.

November 5, 2012
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Students at Edmonton's Our Lady of the Prairies Catholic School are generally well behaved. But since the introduction of a behavioural program a year ago, teachers say instances of aggression have been reduced significantly.

The program, Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS), is a pro-active program to help students learn the skills they need to get along with one another.

"We teach them how to solve problems without using their hands," said principal Jeff Johnson. "We teach them peaceful and calm ways to solve conflicts, including self-control, how to understand and recognize their own emotions and how to tolerate frustration."

Students also learn more effective conflict resolution strategies, improving thinking and planning skills.

The school at 17655-64 Ave. is in its second year of the PATHS program and although no scientific studies have been completed that measure the effectiveness of the program, Johnson said there is a noticeable change in behaviour.

"Anecdotally our teachers have seen an improvement."

French immersion teacher Carmen Chevalier said the program has led to great results in the classroom. "I would say it has reduced behavioural outbursts."

Chevalier said students are not only able to recognize their own emotions but are also able to recognize similar emotions in others. As a result, they are more able to feel empathy and sympathy towards others.

FRUSTRATION

Students generally act out when they are feeling uncomfortable or frustrated, she said. "If they are able to identify what they are feeling, we can help them."

Chevalier said if she notices a student acting out, she would pull that student aside during a break and ask him or her what's going on. Students are taught to stop and take a deep breath before attempting to explain what they are feeling or what the problem is.

Grade 3 teacher Carolyn Guterson holds up a Control Signals poster that is on display at several places in Our Lady of the Prairies School.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Grade 3 teacher Carolyn Guterson holds up a Control Signals poster that is on display at several places in Our Lady of the Prairies School.

Alberta and Nova Scotia are the only two provinces that have introduced the PATHS program in schools. The program came to Our Lady of the Prairies last year and will be fully implemented in three years. Currently students from kindergarten to Grade 4 are involved. Grades 5 and 6 will begin using the program next year.

Of the 444 students at Our Lady of the Prairies, 300 are currently involved in the PATHS program, said Johnson.

Researchers from Dalhousie University in Halifax are collecting data on the long-term effects of the PATHS program on the student behaviour and schoolwork.

LIFE SKILLS

Grade 3 teacher Carolyn Guterson said the PATHS program has definitely helped because it has taught students invaluable life skills as well as how to be respectful of each other.

"It has given the students tools to handle social situations in the classroom, in the hallways, outside at recess time as well as at home."

Guterson displayed a Feeling Chart that features facial expressions people make according to their emotional states. There are comfortable feelings in the chart as well as uncomfortable feelings. It helps students, among other things, to read body language.

PRIVATE TIME

When a child is not ready to talk about something that's bothering him or her, they can ask for private time, which is given to them, she said.

If there is a problem a student needs to deal with he or she has to follow the "Control Signals" before reacting. These signals are found on large, colourful posters prominently placed throughout the school.

The first signal in the poster is the word "Stop," followed by the warning: Take a deep breath; say the problem and how you feel. It's all written in white on a red background.

Then, written in red on a yellow background is the phrase Make a Plan with the following warning: Think: What could I do? Think: Would it work?

Finally, written in white on a green background is the word Go, followed by a suggestion and a question: Try your best idea. How did it work?

Guterson said the control signals are designed to give students time to sort things through and to assess in advance how their reaction will affect others.

The program has also given students alternative strategies to handle certain situations such as how to work well with others.

"The other day we had a lesson on how to work well in small groups and how each student plays a role," she said. "So they were learning the roles of each student, such as a leader, a collector, a recorder and someone that reports back."

In an attempt to build the students' self-esteem, teachers daily select a "star of the day" among their pupils. The chosen student receives written compliments from classmates, the teacher, their family and themselves. The exercise makes the students feel special and teaches them how to receive compliments as well as how to give them.

"So it's been really good and they really love being the star of the day and giving each other compliments."

As well, each classroom has a "problem box" in which students can insert their concerns anonymously.

"The student can write the problem on a sheet of paper, put it in the box, and the teacher can use that as a discussion for the class and have class input on how to solve the problem."

The PATHS curriculum is currently being used in more than 20 countries.