Tagged “Whole Child Partners”

Academic Gains Via a Focus on Character Education

Branson Elementary School West, Branson, M.O.


“We are not a good school, we are a great school!” This is the chant in which principal Mike Dawson leads students, staff, parents, and community members each Monday morning at the all-school character assembly. The chant reminds all stakeholders that the school has a vision for success which includes every student. Dawson attributes his students’ steady academic gains to the systematic implementation of character education. “Once the culture and climate changed, teachers were more trusting and able to plan for student success. Now, we have an aligned curriculum, systematic formative and common assessment data collection, a seamless approach to intervention, and an online curriculum resource available to parents and teachers.” Despite a mobility rate of 35 percent, parents feel welcome in the building, and as proof of community support, a recent school bond passed with 75 percent approval.

No-Blame Approach Promotes Student Growth and Learning

Union Elementary School, Buckhannon, W.V.


Hallways at Union Elementary are covered with evidence of the students’ character-related work: from anti-bullying pledges, to individual student goals, to fundraising efforts to support the family of a student with cancer. More than 3,000 paper chain links—each representing an act of kindness—hang in the hallways; students have a goal of making the chain extend around the entire school. Union has a dedicated staff that does whatever it takes to meet the needs of all students, a number of whom live in severe poverty. Students, parents, and community members contribute to the cleanliness and maintenance of the school and school grounds. Teachers not only model core beliefs and caring for others, but they are also overwhelmingly positive and welcoming, and they work together to solve problems. As both teachers and parents emphasize repeatedly, the belief that “there are no bad students” pervades the Union community.

Dept. of Defense School in Texas Allows Students to Thrive in an Atmosphere of Academic Challenge

Duncan Elementary School, Fort Hood, T.X.

Duncan Elementary School is one of four elementary schools on the Fort Hood military base, the largest military installation in the world. The school provides a safe haven for military children. Parent Gary Tomblin describes the children at the school as “different in that they know life and death,” adding, “[T]heir parents are part of an organization where character is part of who they are. For everyone at Duncan, character is a way of life.” Duncan’s character education program teaches students basic values, and it permeates all aspects of the school. Students determine the direction of club activities. All service-learning projects are now part of the lesson plans that teachers have generated or are part of the planning process of the student-led clubs. Rigorous reading in the content areas, reading intervention programs, and overall high expectations allow students to thrive in an atmosphere of academic challenge.

South Carolina School Takes Responsibility for Academics and Personal Behavior

Bell’s Crossing Elementary School, Simpsonville, S.C.


Rarely does one find a school, particularly a large elementary school, so student-focused. Beginning in kindergarten, students are taught to be responsible for themselves, set academic and personal goals, track their own progress, and be prepared to explain the data to anyone who asks. Every child has a data notebook in which both academic and behavioral statistics are kept and updated on a regular basis. Stakeholders selected the work of Steven Covey to provide more “focus on student leadership and developing essential skills that are needed in the workplace of tomorrow,” according to principal Barbara Barlow. Today, more than 10 leadership clubs are provided for students in grades 3–5, while younger students participate in activities with their grade-level peers.

Character Defines the School’s Approach to Learning and to Life

Walnut Street School, Uniondale, N.Y.


Walnut Street School, with a diverse student population that is 42 percent African-American and 48 percent Hispanic, initiated a character education program six years ago in response to escalating gang violence. The initiative accomplished much more: It now defines the school’s approach to learning and to life. This school has narrowed, and in some cases reversed, the achievement gap. Character education is now an integral part of the schoolwide plan. Quarterly assemblies reinforce character lessons. The school ties character education to sports activities. The G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education and Training) program teaches about bullying prevention and learning not to be a bystander. Walnut Street uses multiple strategies to reach every student. Parental support is strong; the school was named a PTA School of Excellence.

School Addresses Specific Community Needs With a Caring Approach

Brigantine Elementary School, Brigantine, N.J.

Brigantine’s Strategic Planning Committee has built a caring school community using a comprehensive, intentional approach designed to address specific community needs. Demographic changes have dramatically affected the district and the school, prompting development of a plan and a homegrown program to meet the needs of the increasingly diverse population. The result: being named the Kindest School in New Jersey four times. According to principal Don Marrandino, “Our goal at Brigantine Elementary is to teach children at a very young age to make good ethical decisions. Part of that process is learning how to have power over your own behavior. When children make the right choices, they are empowering themselves to be the best they can be.”

Caring and Inclusive Climate at a Small New Jersey Elementary School

Alan B. Shepard Jr. Elementary School, Old Bridge, N.J.

This small elementary school has had a big influence within its walls and in its larger community. Kathleen Hoeker, the former principal, started her journey as school leader in 2001 by focusing on ways to combat bullying. From there, the school underwent a districtwide redistribution of students and in 2004 adopted the Character Counts six pillars as the foundation of its character initiative. Today, all students are involved in creating the caring climate that permeates the building. An inclusive school, Shepard has a mission to provide the same education opportunities to children with disabilities as they do to their able-bodied peers.

New Leadership Revives Storm Devasted School

Lafayette Academy Charter School, New Orleans, L.A.

Established as a public charter school in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina devastated the New Orleans community it serves, the true rebirth of this preK–7 school of 800 occurred in 2007 with the appointment of a new head of school. Since then, the student body, which is nearly 100 percent economically disadvantaged, has been the beneficiary of a shared leadership model, intensive staff development, strengthened community connections, and equal access to rigorous coursework. The results are an impressive upward trend from the disappointing 33 percent passing rate on the required 4th grade state tests in 2006 to a 100 percent passing rate in 2010 and 2011, earning the state’s top designation as a Center of Excellence. 

Racially and Socioeconomically Diverse School Halts Its Decline

Lyles-Crouch Academy, Alexandria, VA

Lyles-Crouch (LCTA), built in 1958, is a K-5 public magnet school in Old Town, Alexandria that serves a racially and socioeconomically diverse population. In 2000, in an attempt to halt school decline, LCTA became a traditional academy and adopted school uniforms, behavioral contracts, small class sizes, a focus on E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge, and an emphasis on character education (Character Counts! or CC!). Character education is not taught in isolation; CC! infuses all aspects of learning. It is incorporated in lesson plans and teacher development days.

Affluent School Works Hard to Welcome All Families and Embrace its Changing Demographics

Mockingbird Elementary, Coppell, T.X.

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