Two McPherson County schools were recently recognized at the state level for their support of character education.
McPherson Middle School and Moundridge USD 423 were honored May 2 as part of the Kansas Schools of Character Recognition Program, sponsored by the Kansas State Department of Education, the Kansas Character Education Initiative and the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site.
McPherson Middle School was among 46 Spotlight Award recipients. The award is new this year and is intended to highlight an activity that helps achieve the state's social, emotional and character development standards. The purpose of the standards are to provide schools a framework for integrating social-emotional learning with character development so that students will learn, practice and model essential personal life habits that contribute to academic, vocational and personal success, according to a Kansas State Department of Education press release.
MMS received the award because of workshops led by the guidance department.
The workshops use information from ACT's ENGAGE test that measures soft skills, such as commitment to school, feelings of safety in school and thinking before acting. MMS counselors Jeff Allmon and Kathy Button then invite them to attend daytime workshops that focus on improving these areas. College and career advocate Elise Matz will join them next year.
Allmon said he has seen improvements since the workshops piloted last year. For example, one middle school student who was having trouble adjusting to the pressures of middle school, is now being awarded for good behavior.
“This is making a difference for kids, and it's why it's exciting for me,” he said. “It's the best thing I've been involved with at the middle school.”
MMS Principal Brad Plackemeier said the workshops' strength is catching negative behavior before it's too late. This helps students improve in more areas than just academics.
“We could have a kid with all A's and B's but not connected with school, and it could catch up with them down the road,” he said. “I've never been in a building where we've been able to do all of these things well. It's just nice to have that.”
The award, the principal said, comes from the hard work of the guidance department.
“I thought it was well deserved,” Plackemeier said. “It goes to the three people on the front lines doing it every day. It's nice for them to be recognized for what they do on a daily basis.”
Moundridge USD 423 was among 12 Promising Practice in Character Education Award recipients. The recognition praises the work of the district's anti-bullying initiative.
The initiative was implemented this fall and is primarily driven by middle and high school assistant principal Eric Clark. Clark has been working for the past two years to develop an anti-bullying program with Larry Thompson, creator of Responsibility-Centered Discipline.
Page 2 of 2 - With Responsibility-Centered Discipline as a base, a character education program CORE —Communication, Observe/define, Responsibility, and Empowerment — was developed. Clark said the system breaks the cycle of bullying and teaches individuals how to identify, manage and discuss these moments in practical ways.
“It's really remarkable,” Clark said of receiving the award. “When you put so much work into something, for it to be implemented and achieve success, it's an unbelievable experience.”
The state's recommendation will now be passed on to the national level.
“I have to thank the administration and board (of education) for brining me on board and giving me the opportunity to pilot it as a new administrator,” he said. “That, to me, speaks volumes for what they want to achieve and that character education is important.”
Clark said he has already seen change within the district. For example, while a student might have had a tendency to confront someone negatively, they are now going to great lengths to confront difficult situations.
“What we're starting to see as we continue to roll it out is a culture change, where kids are looking at themselves as being the nerve center of our school and seeing they can make positive choices that are not only going to help them, but their classmates,” Clark said. “We spent so much time talking about how to dramatically affect assessment results and what our instructional practices are, but sometimes we fail to recognize that if we can deal with character and behavior issues first, the process of instruction and assessment becomes so much easier.”
Clark said the initiative has morphed over time and will be an ongoing process of improvement.
Meanwhile, he plans on attending a national school discipline conference, where he will present the district's program in a breakout session.
“I didn't think in my first year I'd have an opportunity to do that,” he said.
Contact Jenae Pauls at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel