Panther Valley High School Principal Joe Gunnels stood amid a sea of enthusiastic children in the all-purpose room of the elementary school Monday, launching the academic year on a positive course.

Gunnels quickly had the children, who are in kindergarten through third grade, happily raising their hands in response to his energetic call-and-response lesson on the three sails safety, responsibility and respect that will help the small students navigate their way through the school year.

The three traits are "the way to be at PVE" the children shouted.

The concepts are integral to the elementary level of the district's Positive Behavior Support program, which began last fall. The gist of the program is to "catch children being good." In the elementary school, employees, including cafeteria workers, custodians and bus staff, instantly reward good behavior with "golden" tickets that list the child's name, grade and homeroom. The tickets can then be exchanged for small prizes.

Gunnels introduced the idea of the program by encouraging the first through third grade students to shout a welcome to the kindergarten students. He then asked the whole audience to wish another student happy birthday.

The greeting and good wish made the students more aware of the need to be respectful of others' feelings.

Interim elementary Principal Gloria Bowman introduced Gunnels, and opened the program by thanking the children for their good behavior on the buses that morning, the first day of classes.

Gunnels periodically thanked the children for their attentive, respectful behavior throughout his presentation.

Administrators embarked on the Positive behavior Support program as a way to establish a common-ground culture of civility on the often stormy sea of rudeness, bullying and apathy that marks much of current society.

The program is a statewide initiative. The Pennsylvania Positive Behavior Support Network's leadership team includes the Bureau of Special Education; the Governor's Commission on Children and Families; the state Student Assistance Program; the state Department of Health's Drug and Alcohol programs, and the Mental Health Association of Pennsylvania.

The program is tailored to each school. Each school creates a team, which discusses and then agrees on areas where children need to be encouraged to change their behavior. Elementary school Principal William Lombardo last October said that his team came up with the safety, responsibility and respect trio.

Principals at all three levels said the program is working. It's success is measured in the fewer numbers of referrals to guidance counselors, better attendance and academic performance.

At the middle school, the traits to be cultivated are: Unified, Respectful and Responsible. At the high school, they are: Preparation, Accountability, Cooperation and Collaboration, and Excellence.

Ninety-nine school districts in the state have implemented the Positive Behavior Support program, including the Jim Thorpe and Palmerton school districts also.