According to longtime advisor Mr. Tony Quitta, the impact the programs and his students make on a daily basis is huge, and not only with the students mentored.
“The halls have empathy; the halls are clearer,” said Mr. Quitta. “The social atmosphere across the district is more friendly and welcoming. We do not have the social problems that other schools do. New teachers and substitutes are amazed.”
He currently has 37 high school students active in the prevention programs who are mentoring 259 students, not including interventions. During class time PALS mentors meet weekly with four younger students at other campuses who are recommended by teachers.
PAX members are PALS who are also trained in mediation and conflict resolution, and are chosen based on their personality which is more engaging and direct, according to Mr. Quitta. They are assigned three students who they meet with weekly. They also are assigned PAX days in which they “intervene” with students who need immediate help and are “on the bubble,” said Mr. Quitta, such as those in In-School Suspension (ISS) at the Elementary and Junior High before behaviors get out of hand.
The PALS and PAX students are given six weeks of training at the beginning of the school year before meeting with their charges. “You’re not there to counsel,” says Mr. Quitta to his students. “You are there to listen.” The rest is on the student.
They do keep confidential records of their interactions, which have been subpoenaed in the past as legal documents. The students understand the seriousness of what they do.
“I always tell my students ‘I have confidence in your ability to cope with the situation,’” said Mr. Quitta. “And I am always available to listen to them when they need to talk it out.”
The Smithville PALS/PAX program has always been a winning program. At state meetings, Mr. Quitta said that other schools are amazed at the depth of the Smithville program, especially given its size. Mr. Quitta has also had students help give presentations at other schools, and they volunteer a large number of hours each year around the district and community.
Over the years, Smithville’s PALS/PAX program has won numerous awards at the local, state and national level.
“This is the flagship,” said Mr. Quitta. “We set the standard for other programs.”
The program was established in Austin in 1980 as a way to enable young people to use their potential to make a positive difference in their school. Mrs. Vicki Hall, high school teacher, brought PALS to Smithville in 1998.
Mr. Quitta has taught and managed the program for the past eight years. With Mr. Quitta’s retirement this year, next year’s PALS/PAX will be taught by Scottie Stevens, who was coached by Mr. Quitta in the 1980s.