Rocky Branch kicks up heels to kick off character edA lone spotlight shined in the darkened gym of Rocky Branch elementary the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 9, as one-by-one during a school assembly, kids representing character traits ripped through a big paper banner.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
A lone spotlight shined in the darkened gym of Rocky Branch elementary the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 9, as one-by-one during a school assembly, kids representing character traits ripped through a big paper banner.
Each child wore a T-shirt labeled with the corresponding trait they represented.
School Principal Chuck Eaton provided dramatic announcements for each as they came bursting through to loud cheers and applause: Respect, cooperation, citizenship, compassion, perseverance, courage, responsibility, positive attitude and honesty.
Eaton laughed off a minor technical difficulty and told the kids that continuing the show anyway provided a good chance to exercise perseverance.
School counselor Laurie Moyer explained that Friday marked the official start of Rocky Branch’s Character Education program, which is being implemented at each school in the River Falls district.
While the traits are common, each school has the discretion to introduce and teach the character education curriculum in the way that works best in their location.
The assembly reinforced the character traits and introduced the methods by which Rocky Branch will reinforce the lessons.
The Kinni Stepping Stones to character will document when students catch each other demonstrating good character. The paper stones line the upper part of the wall throughout Rocky Branch.
Moyer said about the stones, “We wanted to incorporate stewardship of the Kinni (river) somehow.”
When schoolmates recognize one another for good character, they write it on a footprint that is placed upon the stones. For example, two of the stepping stones already had a worded footprint on them.
One said, “Thank you for being responsible and picking up things left behind on the lunch table.” Another one recognized a student for always listening respectfully to her classmates.
Moyer and the other staff suspect and hope that by the end of the year, all the stones around the whole school will be full of similar sentiments.
Eaton explained to the assembly that each student will receive a green wristband that as a reminder, says, “Walking with character.”
Toward the end of the assembly, teachers and staff grabbed their young students’ attention by breaking into a spontaneous flash-mob-style dance lasting several minutes -- asserting themselves as “agents of change.”
Moyer explained that developing good character goes a long way in helping children achieve academic success.
“We’re teaching the character traits in a very deliberate way,” she said.
The stepping stones, said Moyer, help the kids recognize good character and reinforce that lesson by writing it down. She said teachers will be doing other activities within classrooms, and the school has planned a few hallway activities that will reinforce the lessons too.
For example, a literature teacher might ask the class to identify the positive traits of characters in a story or book.
Moyer said Rocky Branch will concentrate on a different character trait each month. A sub-committee is planning activities related to each one.
“It really has taken off,” she said about the concept.
Moyer agrees that the flash-mob style dance caught and held the kids’ attention. Most were wide eyed at seeing their teachers dance around, straining to see their moves.
The school counselor said a committee working on character education hatched the idea for one of the spontaneous dances. Some of the members like to dance…
The committee members thought it would be a good attention grabber and visual reminder. Moyer said everyone on the staff rehearsed hard and was gracious about embracing the performance.
The lessons of character education began well before the formal kickoff day, and Moyer has had visitors comment about the difference it’s making. Some say the kids seem different -- calmer and more respectful.
Meyer Middle School Principal Mark Chapin said in a January Journal story about character education that discipline referrals went down by 50% at the middle school within the first few months of implementing CE.
The concept got started in the district after strategic planning revealed CE as a need. The River Falls Area Hospital Foundation granted the district $12,000 last year to send a small group of educators to CE-implementation training.
After that, teachers and staff formed subcommittees and began planning how to present the content to students.