Barbara Gruener – Put a Face to the Name

Many of you know Barbara Gruener from her inspirational book reviews that usually form the content for this section. Barbara has been a counselor for eight years at Westwood Elementary in Friendswood, Texas, which has celebrated CC! Week every year since 2000.

We asked Barbara to give us insight into her program that has won a State School of Character Award and twice been a finalist in the CEP National School of Character Award.

“Over the years, Westwood has developed a CAREacter climate so that celebrating character is natural,” Gruener tells us. “Beginning with a kick-off event in the local park to inviting athletes to celebrate with a pep rally to dressing up in the Six Pillar colors, these activities help emphasize a feeling of solidarity and unity in the community.”

Gruener works with the principal on discipline referrals and ties every behavior back to the Six Pillars of Character. “We always ask the student which Pillar he or she needs to work on,” Gruener explains. “After a recent discipline matter, one boy hugged us both, and we heard him say as he left the office ‘Thanks, that was fun.’ Imagine thinking a visit to the principal is fun!”

Another important role played by Gruener is helping with team-building among the staff. “I work with the administration to help keep the lines of communication open and morale high. Last year for our holiday party we sent our faculty into the community to give back. Working in teams, teachers delivered baked goods to support staff, performed a random act of kindness, washed windows at local retailers, and found someone who could use a five-dollar bill and gave it to them. It was rewarding to see them bond as a team while helping others.”

Community involvement has been key to Westwood achieving an impressive 62 percent reduction in discipline referrals. Gruener acknowledges that many of the best ideas come from student input.

Including their parents is another way students have contributed to CC!’s success. “I’ve had parents tell me their kids often reverse roles with them, calling them on stuff they think isn’t very ‘pillar-like,’” says Gruener. “That’s the character-in-action we’re going for. Not just for a week, but for a lifetime.”

Westwood Elementary is a finalist in the 2008 CEP National School of Character Award.

For more information on Westwood’s program, visit its website.