Pep rallies, motivational speakers, posters, chants and high fives - all things you would see in a school in Grant County in the fall during football season. But in Potosi and Cassville the first day of school last week, none of those things had to do with any sports team or upcoming game - they were all part of the character education initiatives taking place to help students have a positive attitude, be considerate to their peers, and to continue to make the school a better place.
Potosi enters Year 3
With a theme of “Average Happens by Accident, Excellence Happens on Purpose,” Potosi Schools entered their third year of the initiative with a series of challenges. The grant they had received to establish the program in the first two years was significantly reduced. The newness of the program was gone, but Joci Grinde and Gail Steiner, the two instructors behind the creation of the initiative felt that in Year 3 the idea that this is just what they do is a good thing.
“It’s one of our big goals, this is how we should be,” Grinde stated. “It’s not a program, it’s a way of thinking,” noting the administration has been very supportive.
“The mindset has changed with staff members and this will not go away,” said Steiner, who said character education in Potosi has brought significant benefits to the students and staff. Steiner said that for the first year in a number of years that no student needed to take summer school to make up a class they had failed. “We don’t have kids drop out, but to have kids doing better, it opens up possibilities for them,” Steiner noted.
Part of that can be attributed to the ZAP program, or Zeroes Aren’t Permitted. The program which has been moving up the grades each year, requires that if a student does not turn in homework, they come in their lunchhour to finish it.
“For a number of kids, its made a tremendous difference and they are seeing better grades,” Steiner reflected.
Beyond the grades, Grinde and Steiner said the difference in attitude could be seen in less tangible ways. “Last year, substitute teachers came in and said ‘your kids are different here, they are respectful.’ We were blown away at what they said,” Steiner noted. “I do see a difference.”
“They don’t always show good behavior, but they are aware,” Grinde added. “So when someone goes below the line, they call them on it.”
Three years in, Grinde and Steiner stated there are things they want to work on. For one thing, the level of participation from the public is not what they had hoped. A group formed to do just that in the first year put together a community carnival, but folded in the first year. Steiner is not sure it will happen this year, but thinks the public will be more involved in the coming years. “Our parents see it in some way, but the community has not taken ownership yet.”
As far as this year, the school year started on Monday, as teachers from Potosi and Cassville held a joint inservice and discussed the idea of creating an “Above the Line” mindset, trying to tell people to think like they are in the top 20 percent, not the bottom 80.
“Above the Line thinking your perspective changes, and you start thinking about how you can solve problems instead of how awful the problem is,” Grinde said of the mindset, which teachers will be introducing to students throughout the year.
As far as more specific programs that Potosi is working on, the district has decided to hold a fundraiser to build a home in Haiti, looking to raise $3,200. Grinde said no decision has been made, but they might have a hat fundraiser, where students pay to wear hats for a day. In the past they have had a hat donation.
Steiner noted that it was important to keep programs going within the initiative, because it puts the initiative in people’s minds. “I have some concern because the programs keep it in people’s heads.”
The district is also planning to have another wellness day this coming spring, as well as a food drive near Thanksgiving.
One thing that kicked the first day off was motivational speaker Rob Bell who gave a presentation “10 ways to get them to say Wow.”
“It’s again about attitude, how you look at things,” Steiner said of the presentation. Later that first day, high school students broke up into groups and created presentations about character that they performed in the elementary school.
Cassville gears up for year 2
Cassville joined Potosi in the Character Education Initiative last year after seeing an article, and has made it their own unique in their second year.
Bernhardt noted that in the second year Cassville was making some changes in the way they approach character education, streamlining some things, while building groups that will be part of a student’s life during their tenure in the district.
During the first year, Cassville attempted to highlight a character word each month, but Bernhardt felt that meant they rushed through and didn’t really focus on what the word meant. For 2011-2012, there will only be four words - Citizenship, Compassion, Courage, and Cooperation - one for each quarter.
That first word will be met with a program the week of Oct. 10-14 called Celebrating Community and Citizenship. Bernhardt noted that she is contacting businesses and civic groups to invite them to come in and explain what they do in and for the community. “I think it’s a nice piece for our students to see what they do.” Those business and groups will be acknowledged with a certificate.
They also will be acknowledged written by the student group that they speak to, who will write a story for the district newsletter. Students will be will be placed in groups, mixing seventh-through-seniors in the middle school high school, something that will also happen in the elementary school and be called camps. These will not be arbitrary groups, as the staff at the school has reviewed and tried to group students from different classes who will work well with one another.
District Administrator Lee Kulland said that on the elementary level, it gives some students an opportunity. “The big kids get the opportunity to be role models,” Kulland noted.
On the elementary level, the camps will get together for lunch from time to time, and work on different activities together.
Another new program this year is senior mentoring, where a senior will be ‘adopted’ by a staff member, and meet every other week to discuss how they are doing and preparing for graduation and beyond.
Depending on how much a student participates, they will get character points, which will have rewards such as a rope play in the spring.
Bernhardt said that after the first year, she has noticed a big change in the attitudes of the students.
Bernhardt pointed to the We Care group that was formed last Spring. Bernhardt said after some students were approached by the idea, one junior single-handedly recruited nearly two dozen students for the group, which had their first project be a food drive. Bernhardt said that the district had held drives in the past, but this one raised $2,400 and tons of food, eclipsing all previous drives.
Beyond the We Care group, the district decided to hold a fundraiser for those students that were displaced by the fire in the Eckstein Building downtown, with classes pledging nearly $1,000, and students volunteering to take the two students affected out shopping to buy replacements of items they lost in the fire.
“They had no problem giving - it was wonderful, “Bernhardt said. “To me, I felt that was progress.”