Checking in With the National Schools of Character – Part 3

It’s time to check in again with one of the Character Education Partnership’s (CEP) 2012 National Schools of Character (NSOC) award winners. For part three of our series, we spoke with Lawrenceville Elementary School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Lawrenceville Elementary is a CHARACTER COUNTS! school that emphasizes kindness, caring and safety. They pride themselves on being a school where all students “can embrace and respect the same core values.” They took the time to answer our questions on how they’ve achieved their success and discuss their plans for sustaining it in the future.

CC!: When and how did you begin your character initiative?

Lawrenceville Elementary School (LES): Lawrenceville Elementary School began its character initiative in 2002.  While targeting areas for growth in our curriculum, and also formalizing the school’s mission statement, the need for a comprehensive character education program was recognized.

CC!: How has character education changed your students or your school environment?

LES: There is an overall feeling of community and cohesiveness at Lawrenceville Elementary School.  Students and staff utilize a shared character education vocabulary, that is understood by everyone. Words and phrases such as “respect,” “honesty,” “trustworthiness,” and “be a bucket filler” help guide students toward appropriate behavior, and help them to take responsibility for their own actions. Monthly “Awesome Assemblies” recognize not only academic achievement, but celebrate students’ acts of kindness and caring. Awesome Assemblies also highlight school-wide volunteer efforts, such as a winter coat collection for local children in need, charitable donations to a children’s cancer foundation, and participation in a green recycling effort in the lunchroom.

CC!: What’s been the most challenging aspect of instituting character education?

LES: The initial implementation of our character education program was somewhat challenging. The Guidance Counselor alone was responsible for providing character education lessons to the students of the school. As time went on, it became apparent that character education had to be infused into the curriculum, with every teacher and staff member playing a part in it. A committee for character education was formed, where ideas are expressed, activities planned for the upcoming year, and various issues discussed. Not only has the culture of the school benefited enormously from our school-wide integrated approach, but the students have responded that they feel valued and cared for by all of the adults at Larwrenceville Elementary School.

CC!: What was your application process like for applying to the National School of Character award?

LES: The process was quite easy! We submitted an extensive on-line application to the CEP (Character Education Partnership), where it was reviewed and rated on a scale. (One aspect that was a challenge was making sure that our application did not exceed the maximum word count for each section.) We received notification that Lawrenceville Elementary School was going to be recognized as a New Jersey School of Character, but also that our application had ranked high enough to be forwarded for national consideration. A site evaluator came for an entire day to visit our school, and had many conversations with staff, students, parents, and administrators. He wrote a an official recommendation that we become a national school of character, and it was submitted to a CEP panel for final approval.

CC!: What qualities or achievements put your school over the top, as far as what your school is doing in the community, overall academic performance, etc.?

LES: Lawrenceville Elementary School has many activities in place that are not only unique, but that help to serve as the foundation of our character education program. Our academic success stems in part from using “Let Me Learn”, a system in which the students become empowered by understanding their own styles of learning. They then use the vocabulary from “Let Me Learn” to express their learning needs to their teachers, and to other students. Students can express that they are “Technical,” “Sequential,” “Confluent,” or “Precise” learners.

Our school also continually offers opportunities for moral action and growth with our third grade “Care Kids” program, in which the children participate in helping to create food-drives for needy families in the community. They also visit local senior citizens who live in nursing homes, and visit the Pre-School classrooms to read and interact with the younger students. In addition, our school has a garden, where children learn through hands-on activities about the environment, composting, and food growth and preparation. A parent of one of our students has volunteered the past two years to teach garden lessons to each class at our school. So many factors come together create a school culture of caring, trust, and respect among everyone.

CC!: How do you plan to sustain this success with the program moving forward?

LES: Every year, new ideas are discussed during the meetings of the character education committee. Last year, we had a super hero “Respect Parade” for the first time, where students donned paper capes and belts, which they had decorated with drawings of respectful actions and respectful words. One of our future goals is to also include parents even further in our character education initiative, by providing on-line parental surveys in which they can express thoughts, ideas and point out areas for future growth.

 

To learn more and to apply your school as one of the CEP’s 2013 National Schools of Character, visit here. Applications must be completed by Dec. 3, 2012. To register for Worldwide CHARACTER COUNTS! Week, visit here.