Just as students at Pray-Woodman Elementary in Maize have lessons in reading, math, science and P.E., they learn what it means to be a good person.
Instruction about character traits such as self-control, responsibility and respect is part of the school day, said principal Nils Gabrielson.
“As adults, you kind of assume kids would know how to walk in the hall or how to behave on the bus, but they need to be taught that,” Gabrielson said.
“We always talk about how our plates are full with all the things we have to teach – the reading and math and those things,” he said. “But we’ve come to realize that character education is the plate. Everything builds on that.”
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Pray-Woodman is one of a dozen Kansas schools honored recently for their support of character education. Also recognized were Maize Middle School, Robinson Middle School in Wichita and Circle High School.
The Hesston school district was honored as the 2013 Kansas District of Character.
Gabrielson said Pray-Woodman’s program echoes a districtwide effort called the Maize Way, which aims to involve all students in character building. Teachers and administrators look for ways during the schoolday to talk about traits such as honesty, generosity, cooperation and perseverance.
Amy Champlin, principal at Robinson Middle School, said that school’s focus on character education began last year when teachers and staff members looked to improve student behavior in hallways, the cafeteria and other common areas.
“We just noticed some gaps in the level of respect and how kids treat each other sometimes,” Champlin said. “It’s not necessarily the big things that end you up in the office but everyday actions in the lunch line or at a locker or sitting next to someone in the cafeteria.”
Staff members opted for a character-based agenda – the daily planner issued to every Robinson student – and incorporated short lessons or discussions about the monthly character traits, Champlin said.
A bulletin board in a main hallway displays the trait of the month: April’s, for example, was cooperation. The trait also is included in weekly announcements and in the school’s newsletter.
Students who discuss the trait at home with their families can get a document signed by their parents and be entered into a monthly drawing for gift cards or other prizes.
“If nothing else, it sparked a conversation,” Champlin said. “I think that it gives us a common vocabulary when we have conversations and we visit with kids.”