The currency at Chief Charlo Elementary is not candy but the "Pack Paw," the students' legal tender for good, polite and helpful behavior.

And the big cash-in happens every month in the South Hills school's gymnasium, where all gather to celebrate good behavior as well as academic achievements.

The awards assembly recognizes the students hand-picked by their teachers for doing everything from helping others to drastically improving in a subject to just plain getting good grades.

"We wanted to have that flexibility because it allows you to meet those kids where they're at," said principal David Rott, who attends every assembly and announces the awards.

The school's "Pack Paw" system, as well as the monthly awards assembly, are part of Chief Charlo's responses to the Montana Behavioral Initiative, a statewide anti-bullying program that many schools in the Missoula County Public Schools district have adopted.

It's a proactive approach to better behavior and more peaceful hallways and to better grades, rather than the old, reactive punishment system (though punishment is still an option with MBI).

Students at Chief Charlo are acutely aware of the monthly assembly and the "Pack Paw" system. Since its implementation two years ago, behavior both inside the building and outside on the playground have improved remarkably, said second-grade teacher Lynn Koeppen.

"Oh, it's a really big deal," she said, to be in the awards assembly. "They really respond to it."

Each teacher at each grade level is free to nominate as many students for awards as they want, but generally a classroom will send two or three students up to get their certificate.

Koeppen chose two students this go-round.

"The students set goals and I watch throughout the month," she said. "Whoever is working really hard on the goal is who I select."

The students also put on a short presentation at the assembly. In last week's case, they wrote a short skit about the importance of good hallway behavior.

Rott said that gets the students even further involved in the Pack program and awards assemblies.

"Instead of having to listen to a principal, which nobody wants to do, the kids get to do the awards program," he said.

Reach reporter Jamie Kelly at 523-5254 or at


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