Sixth-grade students at Nikiski North Star Elementary School do the Six Pillar Shuffle during a Character Counts! assembly earlier this month.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
What does a mayor, a soldier, a state trooper, a fire chief, a postal employee and a refinery manager have in common with 415 elementary school students?
For each of them, CHARACTER COUNTS!
“It’s been a great thing,” Nikiski North Star Elementary School Principal Lori Manion said of the national program. “We’ve seen a decrease in a variety of behaviors. ... The staff has jumped on board, and it’s been embraced by our community as well.”
The CHARACTER COUNTS! coalition is a national organization started with the goal of teaching ethical behavior through the six pillars of character: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship.
The program is endorsed by the President, and Manion said it has been adopted by several state governments as well various community and human-service organizations. She came across the program as an assistant principal at Kenai Middle School and saw it as a good way to welcome sixth-graders into the building by training a group of eighth-grade leadership students.
Staff Sgt. Roy Brendible of the Army National Guard and other guest speakers addressed different aspects of character during the all-school gathering.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Manion became principal at North Star Elementary five years ago, and when the school merged with Nikiski Elementary, Manion saw a golden opportunity to build character. Teachers Linda Zimmerman and Wally Hufford were sent to a training session, and the staff has used the six pillars to change the dialogue with regard to student behavior.
“The last thing we wanted to do was add something more for teachers to do -- everyone has full plates,” Hufford said. “We use CHARACTER COUNTS! as the spice, so we all have a common vocabulary. If everybody uses the same terms, it really helps kids understand what it is.”
As part of the program, posters of all sizes with descriptions of each pillar are posted around the school, and large banners have been hung in the gym. Instead of asking a student what he or she has done wrong, teachers now ask, “What pillar did you break?”
Hufford said one student came into school at the beginning of the year and said he used CHARACTER COUNTS! to make good decisions over the summer.
“Kids don’t do things because they want a CHARACTER COUNTS! slip,” Zimmerman said, referring to the cards teachers fill out when they spot a student showing good character. “It’s become part of the school. We want to make good character a habit.”
According to Manion, the habit has caught on enough so that she included the program in the school plan. Since instituting the program, disciplinary problems have significantly declined. Out-of-school suspensions dropped from 135.5 days in 2004-05 to 78 days in 2005-06; in-school suspensions have dropped from 25 to 16.5 days; and bus suspensions have dropped from 29 to nine days.
“The program appears to be making a difference,” said Manion, though she added that other things, such as an anti-bullying program, also may have helped with the decline.
Students have taken the program home with them. Handouts outlining the six pillars are sent home with students, and many end up on the refrigerator door as a reference for parents.
“We hear parents say, ‘Thank you for speaking the same language we speak at home,’” Zimmerman said.
CHARACTER COUNTS! also is migrating through the community. The program is going strong at Kenai Middle School and Sharon Moock brought it with her when she became principal at Soldotna Middle School. Hufford and Zimmerman have been ambassadors for the program to other district schools, visiting McNeil Canyon Elementary in Homer, Sterling and Kalifornsky Beach elementary schools.
Nikiski North Star celebrated good character with an assembly last month and invited a variety of community members to briefly talk with students about a pillar and how they use it in their day-to-day lives. Manion was ordained the Queen of Character and Zimmerman and Hufford became her court jesters for the event. Hufford said most of the invitees were familiar with the program through the Nikiski Chamber of Commerce’s support.
Hufford said it wasn’t hard to get special guests lined up.
“Every one of them said, ‘It sounds like a great thing to do, we’ll be there,’” Hufford said.
State Trooper Vanessa Meade spoke about trustworthiness, Kenai Mayor Pat Porter talked about respect, Audrey Johnson from the Nikiski Post Office addressed responsibility, Vern Miller, a Tesoro manager, discussed fairness, and Staff Sgt. Roy Brendible, a National Guardsman, talked about citizenship. Judene Van Cleave of the Nikiski Chamber led students in the Pledge of Allegiance and the CHARACTER COUNTS! pledge.
“This whole program is a lot of fun. The assembly is fun. It’s great to have people come in from the community,” Hufford said.
The message, Hufford said, is that one person’s character can change the world.
“The one thing I’ve been so happy about is how the staff has really embraced the program. Everybody likes it and uses it in the classroom,” Hufford said. “It’s become pretty pervasive throughout our whole school.”
CHARACTER COUNTS! Pledge
I pledge to be a kid of character.
I will be worthy of trust.
I will be respectful and responsible, doing what I must.
I will always act with fairness,
I will show that I care,
I will be a good citizen and always do my share.
Will Morrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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