This year Central Middle School staff have taken a proactive approach to building character in their students.
The Pillars of Character program was implemented this school year and centers around five main facets of character that are intended to educate students on what makes a decent and honorable person.
The program was brought to the school by Assistant Principal Greg Noble. Over the summer, Noble consulted with Todd McKinney, a Farmington assistant principal and director of Character Education, who started a character education program for the students at Farmington a few years ago.
Farmington High School was recently recognized as a National School of Character as a result of the program so Noble felt the advice and information would be valuable in crafting a program for Central. Noble was very grateful to Farmington for sharing their experience and practices and used that experience to tailor a program specifically for the students of his school in hopes of achieving the same type of character development.
The school started by creating a survey form that listed about 20 character traits and asked faculty, parents, and students to rank the traits that they felt were most important to have and to instill. As they were compiling the survey results, what they found was that, surprisingly, the top five were the almost unanimously the same among all three groups surveyed. The traits ranked the highest were respect, responsibility, honesty, integrity, and kindness.
After the results were compiled and they had a direction to build on, a character education committee was formed to decide how to best implement a program at their school.
The development program involves students participating in discussions and activities during the final period class on Monday of each week, spending four weeks on each pillar topic.
They start the discussion by using a program called ClipShout, which is an educational tool that uses movie clips to show examples of certain topics and has a character education component built in. The students view the clip pertaining to the topic being discussed and use this as a jumping off point for discussions and activities to create a more tangible idea of the character trait they’re examining. The video clips are tailored by school staff to remove anything that the Character Education Committee deems too elementary or not pertinent to the direction they’re trying to achieve with the program.
This is where the tailored approach comes into play.
Noble said that they will sometimes use the structure and activities in the video clips but then use their own concepts that they feel will best serve the development of their students.
“We don’t just take their programs and deliver it to students. We take what they have, and take out things that we don’t like or things that we’d like to replace and put our own things in,” Noble explained.
The students learn the trait being discussed through a “head, heart, hands” approach.
Noble elaborated on this saying, “The idea is to give them the intellectual knowledge about the character trait; that’s the head part. Then we try to get them to internalize it. The goal is to get the idea from their brain to their soul. We want them to understand what the character trait means but also to try to make it a part of who they are because we know that no one’s going to act with integrity if they don’t understand what it means.”
The most recent character trait discussed has been integrity.
The hands part of the approach is done through activities in the classroom with their teacher but other times it includes proactive activities outside the classroom.
When kindness was the trait being developed, the students heard from a guest speaker on the subject. Chuck Huff is the father of Carlei Huff, a North County Middle School student, who passed away last year after a battle with cancer. He spoke about the kindness that was shown to their family while they went through the most thing difficult a family can face. He also talked about the kindness of his daughter and the things she did for others even in the midst of her illness.
“The students were strongly impacted by that,” Noble said.
Later, after the students heard from Huff, the students participated in a toy and supplies drive benefiting Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. The students did this in honor of Carlei. The students also collected donated items for a program known as “Friends of Kids with Cancer,” which helped support her during her cancer battle. The supplies drive allowed the students to put into action the character trait they had been cultivating.
The students learned that “this is what kindness is intellectually, here’s what you can do to internalize that, and then let’s do something kind,” Noble explained.
More speakers will be invited to speak on the different pillars. The capstone speaker planned for this year is Sephira Shuttlesworth, wife of the late Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Rev. Shuttlesworth was the leader of the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama. He is considered to be one of the most influential leaders of the movement in the 1960s. His wife is scheduled to speak to the students at the end of this school year.
Since this is the first year of the program, all the students have participated in the same character curriculum.
“We have a lot of plans … and we’re just getting started with this program.” Noble said.
After this school year, the incoming six graders will be taught with this particular approach of character development and the pillar traits will be introduced to them.
The Character Education Committee will decide on a different curriculum for the seventh and eighth graders in order to expand on what they have already learned and experienced.
As a result of such enthusiasm from the teachers for the subjects discussed, the students have begun to value the time and character discussions as well.
“Our teachers have been fantastic … they understand, as professionals, that what they value, their students will also value,” said Noble. “The teachers have done such a great job at valuing the Pillars of Character…”
Teachers and administrators will refine the concepts and and as it develops over the coming years and it will advance in scope and sophistication.
Bobby Radford is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3628, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.