Archive for Thursday, January 15, 2004

Grade school program fosters character

January 15, 2004

During a recent lunch hour at Tonganoxie Elementary School, students be-bopped their way into the cafeteria.

The lively group included girls in poodle skirts, boys in oversized letter jackets, and teachers in ponytails and bobby socks. Pat Walker, school counselor, decked out in pedal pushers and cardigan sweater for the event. This was after all, her pet project. And the occasional themed lunch hour is just one of the rewards of the "Life Skills for Success" program.

But the most obvious reward, Walker said, is seeing a reduction in student discipline problems.

Four years ago, the grade school implemented the Life Skills for Success character-building program.

Even in the first year of the program, students' behavior improved, Walker said.

"From August through November when we first started, the first year we did it, we had 34 discipline problems," Walker said in December. "We had 22 this quarter up to now."

Each quarter, the Life Skills for Success program looks at a positive trait. For instance, during the last quarter, the lesson centered on truthfulness -- to be true to your word, your work and your friends, Walker said. During the first quarter this year, the theme was courtesy. The current theme is tolerance, and the theme for the last quarter will be forgiveness. Toward the end of each quarter, students celebrate by inviting guests to join them for a themed lunch, such as the recent '50s event.

It is a celebration that follows weeks during which students are frequently reminded of the theme.

Each day during morning announcements when students give morning announcements on the intercom, they give a quick definition of the positive trait and tell a thought for the day, related to the trait.

At least once a quarter, Walker visits each classroom and talks about the life skills lesson.

So far, it seems to have gone over well with the teachers, Walker said.

"I think they were worried in the past about it being another thing to add to their work, but they teach character building every day in all kinds of things they do and this is just kind of a plus that I help carry out," Walker said. "I haven't had any of them come to me and tell me they don't want to do it anymore."

Until now, the program has been funded by grants secured by Walker. Although the grants have been cut off, Walker said she believes the program will continue, because most of the supplies -- videos and reading materials -- can be reused.

"About the only thing I'll be asking the school district for are things to decorate for the dinners," Walker said. "A lot of these things we already have."

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