School district employs curriculum of characterMeyer Middle School Acting Principal Mark Chapin said since the school district introduced and started character education this fall, discipline referrals at MMS decreased by 50%. The message seems to be making a difference.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
Meyer Middle School Acting Principal Mark Chapin said since the school district introduced and started character education this fall, discipline referrals at MMS decreased by 50%.
The message seems to be making a difference.
Chapin sits on the RFSD Character Education Steering Committee and said the district planned to kick off character education during the second half of the school year, but it gained momentum more quickly than anyone thought.
Each school in the district has developed its own curriculum of character, all based on the same characteristics and Walk the Talk/Leading With Courage theme.
Rick Cleary, Meyer Middle School dean of students, said a character committee at each of the schools helps communicate the principles of CE, which include: Courage, citizenship, compassion, cooperation, perseverance, positive attitude, respect, responsibility and honesty.
Chapin said most schools were already using some kind of character education, but the new program makes for a more open, collaborative process.
Chapin said, “We share ideas and that leads to other ideas.”
Character focus gets foothold
After the community identified it as a need, the district integrated CE into its strategic planning process. Chapin explained CE’s evolution since then.
A $12,000 grant from the River Falls Area Hospital Foundation covered training sessions conducted by the Character Education Partnership -- one at Wisconsin Dells in June for the CE Steering Committee; another conducted by a CEP trainer who traveled to River Falls in September; and more learning and inspiration for key CE leaders at the CEP National Conference in San Francisco.
RFAH Foundation Director Heather Logelin said the grant reflects the goal of helping people develop healthy lifestyles.
“…The grant to help start the school district’s character-education program was truly an investment in the social and emotional well-being of all of the young people here in River Falls,” Logelin said.
Each school’s CE committee meets monthly. The district will also produce a list of touchstones, which some might call a belief statement.
Chapin said there are many examples of how MMS teachers have been integrating character education into their lessons, as have all the schools.
Literature and social studies teacher Paul Meyer said he asked kids to read a novel, then pick out characters who demonstrate positive character traits. In science, the kids thought about and named inventors who exhibited good character.
Students have also watched movie clips to identify positive character traits.
Teachers, administrators and other staff also had training in how they could be better role models for character development -- including everything from keeping disagreements civil to avoiding non-verbal cues that can send the wrong message.
Chapin explained that CE also appears to help with the problem of bullying and said, “I think the people who have bullied in the past have been put on notice.”
Meyer guided students in putting together an hour-long variety show in October to address the issue of bullying. The student-produced program included skits, video clips, poems and moderators who went into the audience.
Cleary said about the program, “The kids were totally engaged.”
Meyer, a 20-year teaching veteran, said, “It was the second-best teaching experience I’ve ever had.”
A fellow teacher told him it was the most amazing thing he’d seen in 25 years.
Gary Campbell, MMS counselor, said the CE curriculum goes hand-in-hand with bullying and seems to make kids feel more comfortable talking about it -- from defining bullying to identifying who’s doing it.
He said on the second day of the MMS variety show, the moderator asked if anyone in the audience had ever been bullied. A few brave kids raised their hand.
Campbell said while they spoke, “You could’ve heard a pin drop in there.”
Since the variety show and start of the CE program, the educators say they notice kids correcting each other for bullying and other bad behavior. One expert told them about bullying, “You have to start with the bystander.”
Cleary said statistics show that roughly 60% of kids have been bystanders while bullying happened, but a plan to change that is underway.
At MMS for example, students have formed the Bullying Prevention Agency. Young people sign up to become agents, then receive training and an official ID badge. Agents will be stationed where bullying most often happens -- bathrooms, hallways, cafeterias...
They will apply peer pressure and say “stop that” whenever they see bullying behavior. Another prevention measure planned at Meyer will be to make available special note cards students can submit anonymously to report bullies.
Campbell says bullying fits very well into the character-education curriculum since it involves courage, honesty and compassion.
He, Chapin, Meyer and Cleary agree: Kids are embracing character education at MMS, especially the bullying piece of it.
They also say all the schools seem excited about the momentum building behind CE and are eager to see where it leads.
Character ed permeates all schools
- Greenwood Elementary School reports it is piloting a buddy program in which, for example, a 5th grader might be paired with a 2nd grader for a peer lesson related to character. The school will also create a new mission and values statement, and each employee is setting professional goals related to character education. The school has created a website for service-learning projects.
- Renaissance Academy revised its handbook to reflect the lessons of character education; it also uses restorative justice to settle disputes and disciplinary issues, including bullying. The academy created teachable character moments by taking students to see the movie “The Social Network.” Students created “Ally” posters and safe zones related to bullying prevention.
- Rocky Branch Elementary School staff members share something positive at the beginning of each meeting and posted character “street signs” throughout the school. It offers a good-character box where kids can submit examples of good behavior. The school uses peer mediators and also established “care groups” and a buddy system. It also works with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and hosts events for parents.
- Westside Elementary School posted its core values and school rules on banners. It asks children to think about how their choices affect others, and students use journals to reflect. The school also implemented a buddy system, and each classroom holds a meeting every morning to discuss the character focus of the week. A branch of the Student Council now concentrates on character development.
- River Falls High School staff began by identifying the things it already does to encourage good character and conducted a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) to see what it’s doing well and what needs improvement. The school formed a committee to lead character-development activities and strives to raise awareness about what it is doing and why.