School notches top character award
Greenwood Elementary Principal Nate Schurman said character education, now in its seventh year at his school, has brought tangible results.
"Our program has really helped students be mindful of others, so much of what we do with character centers around serving others," he said. "Sometimes those 'others' are our family members and friends, but a lot of times, they are strangers.
"We try to help kids understand that giving can feel just as good as getting, a hard concept for elementary age students to understand. We also want them to know that even though they are little, they can make a big difference through service."
Others from far away have noticed the difference and give it a thumbs up.
Greenwood Elementary was told last month that it earned the state's top honor as a 2017 Wisconsin School of Character.
Last year Meyer Middle School was one of three Wisconsin schools to earn that top honor while Greenwood scored an honorable mention.
The Jan. 27 notification came from the Wisconsin Character Education Partnership (WCEP) in collaboration with Character.org, a national advocate for the character education movement.
The groups recognized Greenwood as a school that's developed a character program to create a positive impact on academics, student behavior, and the school's climate.
Schurman said winning the state's top character honor doesn't make Greenwood flawless.
"Far from it," he said. "But we use our lessons and character traits to learn from those mistakes to help us become better people."
Schurman said Greenwood parents have commented that the school's character ed has influenced their children.
After the Greenwood's Character Education Game Night, which drew over 100 people, one parent sent this email to Schurman:
"...Wednesday night I picked up my daughter from gymnastics and we had to go to the grocery store to pick up a few things and naturally she asked, 'Dad, can I get a treat?' and of course I can't say no...so she proceeded to grab a Twix (an odd choice for her). Didn't think much of it. We checked out, got in the car and I could hear her opening her Twix in the back seat. I asked her how it was and she said it was good but she wasn't going to eat the second one. I asked why and she said 'Dad, I want to give it to ------- (her younger sister) because I want to show good character outside of school, you know Dad, good character doesn't just need to be in school!!!
"It made me feel wonderful and I am glad she is part of a great Greenwood community. Well done! Feel free to pass along this story. I know how important it is to teachers to hear that the work they are doing is making a difference."
Schurman said Greenwood's character-ed success is made possible by supportive parents "who send us kids on high character."
"We try to build on the good work they have done," he said. "Building character has been happening at Greenwood for many years — long before my time and long before a verbalized character-ed initiative.
"So a lot of credit goes to former principals, teachers, and parents that have built Greenwood into what it is now."
Schurman said earning the state's top honor meant Greenwood going through a "rigorous application process."
Aside from any recognition, he said the application gives feedback to schools on their character-ed programs.
After last year's honorable mention status, Schurman and the Greenwood staff decided to apply again.
Schurman said the school already had a reputable character-ed foundation. Greenwood's Character Committee felt tweaking it would make the program even better.
Schurman said the updated version gives the students more say. For instance, instead of identifying a service activity to do with a group like the Salvation Army, students may be asked, "What service activities would you like to do?"
"That changes the focus from being adult directed to adult guided," Schurman said. "We wanted to empower the kids."
Another update is encouraging more involvement with student families in before- and after-school activities and gatherings.
"Schoolwide and in the classroom, we're trying to have everyone invested with the program," Schurman said.
Greenwood submitted its character-ed program application in December and got the result back a month later.
"Our staff was pumped to get the news," Schurman said, adding that the recognition validated what everyone has put into the program.
Since its inception, Character.org has awarded more than 500 schools with the distinction of State School of Character.
Criteria are based on Character.org's 11 Principles of Effective Character Education, which includes providing students with opportunities for moral action, fostering shared leadership and engaging families and communities as partners in character-building efforts.
Founded in 1993, Character.org, is a national nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. It works with schools and districts to inspire, educate and empower young people to be ethical, engaged citizens.
Schurman said Greenwood's program started by using the nine basic character traits and teachable moments.
It grew from that to "focused and intentional effort supported by homemade character lessons, monthly character assemblies, a yearly character theme, home-to-school character events, a character council of roughly 70 students, and a 10-person character committee comprised of teachers, support staff and parents."
Schurman said after learning of last month's state character-ed recognition, Greenwood students were taken to a surprise schoolwide sledding party at Hoffman Park.
The celebration will continue June 20 at Alverno College in Milwaukee when a Greenwood delegation will be honored at the Wisconsin State Character Conference.
Greenwood has held an annual carnival for more than 25 years. This year will be no exception.
The 2017 school carnival, open to the public, is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25.
"It was intended to create a fun day for kids during the gray winter months," Schurman said. "We have hundreds of people attend to play carnival games, get an inexpensive lunch, and take a chance on the silent auction."
Schurman said there's a practical side to the carnival — it raises money for the school's PTO.
That money has financed the building of two new playground structures the past five years.
Schurman said Greenwood's PTO, led by its co-presidents Rissa Wojcik and Melissa Diedtrich, has done a masterful job preparing for the Feb. 25 carnival.