Pivoting in Prevention- How to Rethink Engaging Schools and Your Community

By Sara Mahoney, SC RTAL

Working in Prevention during a pandemic has proved to be challenging for all of us. For those of us who have worked in prevention awhile, in the spring of this year, we all had to “pivot” and learn how to engage youth, community, and schools differently. For those of you just starting in prevention, this is all you know. As RTAL’s at Youth Connections, we are always looking for the best way to help guide and train Prevention Specialists to do their jobs and meet the deliverables of their grants. We had to pivot, too, and realize there are new training needs on how to engage the schools and community with Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines. Community prevention is all about relationships and that is still true, even if the community engagement process looks different.

When not in a global pandemic, fall is usually the perfect time for Prevention Specialists to start engaging the schools. Often a new principal or health teacher may have been hired over the summer and you can begin collaborating with or discussing continuing prevention activities. But this year is different. I sat down with Joliet Public Schools Principal Clark Beggar and asked how Prevention Specialists can best support and work with schools to support them during this time.  He had some great insight.

“Right now, teachers and administrators are taxed. We have no time for any extras this year and we are not allowing for any assemblies,” Clark said. “Teachers are trying to prepare and teach the best they can under the new guidelines and trying to think how they can do prevention or healthy activities with kids in the classroom and those doing distance learning is very difficult.” 

Joliet is a PAX: Good Behavior Game school and Clark reiterated how important PAX has been in the schools. “Our teachers are loving it and it has helped maintain order and consistency in the classroom, all while bringing the game into it. It’s what is saving us right now. If Prevention Specialists really want to support the schools right now, it would be through the PAX Tools Community Training.”

Clark went on to say that if parents and community members can bridge the gap between school and home and reinforce social and emotional learning, that the teachers will see the positive effects of that in the classroom. “As a PAX school, it would be huge if we could have our parents and community members trained. The school would offer to hold the training at the school and could account for social distancing.”

PAX Tools Community Educator trainings have been offered around the state and many Prevention Specialists have received the training and are excited to train parents and community members on the PAX tools, which support the PAX: Good Behavior Game being implemented in many Montana schools. 

Sue Brurud, Prevention Specialist for Hill and Blaine Counties, reiterated how important the PAX Tools Community trainings are. “I think all communities should incorporate PAX Tools for the community, especially if the school is doing PAX.  PAX Tools is a great way to engage the community, and support parents, without putting extra pressure and demands on the schools. Our superintendent was very excited about the additional support PAX Tools would offer to parents, but as the schools are working at max capacity, he suggested starting with the parents of the Boys & Girls Club members first. This offered a way for many of the school age youth parents to receive the training, without additional stress placed on the school district. I really appreciated his partnering on a solution that fit best for our community at this time, and we are currently working  with the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line to offer PAX Tools trainings in October and November. All of the Boys & Girls Club staff have also been trained, or will be trained soon, in PAX Tools. These trainings will be offered virtually, and the PAX Tools training, materials and App are free to all community members, so really all potential barriers other than time have been removed.The PAX Recipe Card Tool Kits available from the state are also a handy reference for busy parents on the go.  We will offer this training in morning, evening and Saturday sessions to try to find a time that works for most parents. In January we will start partnering with other sectors to offer PAX Tools, such as CPS, the Ministerial Association, 4-H, Girl Scouts and other youth serving organizations”.

So, if you are looking for ways to support and engage the schools, it may be through the PAX Tools Community Training.  You can collaborate with the schools on promoting the PAX Tools training and see if the training can be taught in the library or gym in the evening and also account for social distancing.  Other community sectors can also get involved by having trainings at the Boys and Girls Club, Lions Club, or Parent Action groups. 4-H groups are always looking for community projects as are Youth Centers and Law Enforcement.

If you have not taken the PAX Tools Community Educator training yet, you can get in contact with Carol Ewen at [email protected] or contact your RTAL or Grant Program Manager.  PAX is also currently working on a PAX Tools program designed for parents who have children engaged in online or distance learning. As soon as more information is available on this program it will be sent out. Parents and community members can also download the PAX Tools app on any smartphone or tablet device for additional tools and resources.  

The Montana Evidence-Based Workgroup is also in the process of reviewing the PAX Tools Community Training to add the list of approved programs. The PAX tools used in the trainings are derived from evidence-based principles, so if approved, this program would be a great way to incorporate more evidence-based programs into your community logic models.  


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