Character Counts at Lincoln Elementary

By Nancy Gutierrez

There is no course on character development in schools and state standardized tests don't assess the conscience of students, but that isn't stopping Lincoln Elementary School and other schools in the Lindsay Unified School District from teaching their kids that character counts.

Lincoln is making a concerted effort to implement all of the aspects of Character Counts, a character education framework that schools, and other community agencies use to help youths develop the six pillars of character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

"One of the jobs of education, besides building a foundation of skills in literature and math [in students], is to produce good citizens," Lincoln Principal Pam Canby. "[Character Counts] provides a foundation to be better contributors."

First grade teacher Abbey Forbus and counselor Stephanie Collier attended a three-day Character Counts character development seminar in Los Angeles. They returned with a strong belief in the program and the changes it can make in the school.

"This is our community and we can help make it stronger," Collier said.

Forbus and Collier were certified to prepare the teachers at Lincoln to be effective character educators. Teachers learn how to teach children that character counts in everyday classroom interaction. They consistently enforce the six pillars of character, advocate character and model good behavior. Each month the entire school will focus on a pillar. This month is responsibility. Each week students who are found to be demonstrating some form of responsibility will receive green responsibility cards. The students put their name and grade on the card and then put the card in a large basket. At an end of the month Character Counts assembly, several cards will be picked from the basket and those students will get Character Counts prizes. Forbus said the discipline referrals have been revised to reflect the pillars and highlight which one was violated.

"It really works and is easy to implement," Collier said. "It is not more curriculum for teachers."

An information sheet provided by Character Counts states that there are 22 reports on the impact of Character Counts, some sophisticated studies and others are simple comparisons. Results from a 10-year study produced by South Dakota State University report that the program cut crime and drug-use at some South Dakota schools between 1997-2003. In a survey given to students in varying grades it was reported that the number of students who cheated on exams dropped 20 percent, borrowed money without repaying it dropped 20 percent, defaced or vandalized property dropped 33 percent and teased someone because of race or ethnicity dropped 23 percent.

Forbus said students in her class have already caught on to the program. Many of her students will choose to write about responsibility during English language arts lessons.

"The kids internalize [the pillars] and focus less attention on bad decisions," Canby said. "It clarifies for kids what it means to be a good citizen."

On Oct. 22 all of the schools from LUSD will participate in a community kick off to commemorate Character Counts The event will coincide with the Friday night farmers markets and students will perform skits and give other presentations.

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