"Academics is the cornerstone of education, but character is the building block of life." -- Dale Frederick, District Superintendent of Schools, Pittsburgh, PA
Several years ago, Dale Frederick was assistant superintendent of schools in Dayton, Ohio. There he observed the results of a character education program developed by Your Environment, Inc., a company based in Glassport, Pennsylvania. Impressed by the improvement in student behavior, academic achievement, and learning environment he observed in the Dayton schools, Frederick recently spearheaded the adoption of the Your Environment Character Education by several Pittsburgh elementary schools.
The character education program being piloted in Pittsburgh at the Horace Mann, Liberty International, Regent Square, Schaeffer, and Woolslair elementary schools is based on Your Environment's copyrighted Word of the Week system. Each week, a specific character-related word is highlighted and school and classroom activities are geared toward helping students understand and develop that character trait.
Typically, teachers spend 10-15 minutes each day discussing the word of the week and its implications with students. Daily lesson plans, provided in the teacher's guide, include stories that illustrate real-life implications of the highlighted trait as well as suggested discussion topics, motivational quotes, recommended conduct assignments, enrichment activities, and relevant literature resources. In addition, teachers, administrators, and other staff members emphasize the word of the week frequently during the school day, using it to illustrate classroom lessons and reinforce behavior in all areas of the school environment.
Take honesty, for example. "Honesty" is the focus of a week of activities that are part of the Your Environment Character Education program. A story about Abraham Lincoln motivates a discussion of the meaning of the word -- and of the expression "honesty is the best policy." Teachers are encouraged to share one of Aesop's fables, "The Boastful Traveler," and other literature titles that address "honesty." The story of a builder who cheated can be used to set up a discussion about "Who did he really cheat?" Another quote, from H. Jackson Brown, Jr., is offered as a discussion starter: "An honest person is one who you could play checkers with over the phone." And the activities go on
And so do the words -- obedience, willingness, humility, loyalty, responsibility, courtesy, respect, kindness, or patience Each week a new word becomes the focus of classroom activities and discussions.
The character education lessons don't stop at the end of the school day, however. Parent support and participation are key components of the Your Environment program. In order to encourage parental involvement and strengthen mutual commitment to character education, Your Environment conducts training programs designed to help parents reinforce and expand the character lessons learned at school. Each family is provided with a Student-Parent Activity Book containing the words of the week, their definitions, and stories, activities, and suggested family discussion topics. In addition, students bring home Word of the Week flyers to display and discuss with their families.
Perhaps the most notable feature of the Your Environment program, however, is the extensive and highly visible community involvement in the character education effort. Pittsburgh community sponsors and supporters include banks, media outlets, the Port Authority, a dairy, the mayor's office, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. And they are not "silent partners."
Port Authority buses feature the Word of the Week on advertisement cards. KDKA-TV and radio stations WISH-FM and WJAS-AM include the Word of the Week in their broadcasts. The Word of the Week is printed in every issue of the New Pittsburgh Courier and on the side panel of milk cartons sold by Schneider's Dairy. Pittsburgh Pirates players visit the schools and speak to students about character-education issues. Those efforts, Your Environment president William Donofrio told Education World, instill in students the belief that they are loved and valued by the community as a whole and help them realize that the community has a stake in their success in school and in life.
According to Donofrio, the success of the Your Environment Character Education program can be measured in concrete terms. To facilitate that process, the program includes pre- and post-program surveys to evaluate student character gains; a staff culture survey to evaluate the implementation of the program; and a parent opinion survey to determine parental perception of their children's learning environment both before and after the program's implementation. Although Pittsburgh is still evaluating the first six months of their program, Donofrio cites reports from schools in Ohio, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, and South Carolina as evidence of the program's success in improving both student behavior and academic achievement.
Perhaps the best evidence of the program's success, however, can be found at the Allen Elementary School in Dayton, Ohio, the first school in the nation to implement the character education program upon which the Your Environment program is based. In 1989, students at Allen, a poor, inner-city school, ranked 28th out of 33 district schools on standardized achievement tests. Student absenteeism was the highest in the district, more than 150 students were suspended each year for behavioral problems, and fewer than 10 percent of students submitted homework on a regular basis.
Then, principal Rudy Bernardo implemented character education.
In 1995, according to Dayton Public School Superintendent, James Williams, Allen Elementary ranked first in the district on standardized test scores; student absenteeism was the lowest in the district; 87 percent of the students regularly submitted homework; and only 8 students were suspended for bad behavior. Character education at the Allen School, Williams reports, has improved discipline, increased parent participation, enhanced staff morale, and helped students avoid crime and taste success -- and it has done so without the implementation of security guards, metal detectors, or large monetary expenditures.
For additional information about the Your Environment Character Education program, contact: William Donofrio Your Environment Inc. Character Education 300 N. Mononghela Ave. Glassport, PA 15045
Article by Linda Starr
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