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BUILDING CHARACTER AT RIDGE PARK ELEMENTARY

Colonial School District students don't simply learn academics at their kindergarten through third grade schools; they also learn character traits that help them develop socially. At Ridge Park Elementary School (RP), each month focuses on a particular trait.  For February, the theme is perseverance. To help students understand the trait, RP used training for the Olympics as an example and took a school-wide picture with the staff and students recreating the Olympic rings on the playground. "Perseverance is like believing in yourself. You keep trying and trying until you get it right," said First Grader Zoe  Backenstose.

Developing a classroom community through Morning Meetings. At the beginning of the day, all RP students take part in Morning Meetings in their individual classrooms.  Part of the "Responsive Classroom" teaching model, Morning Meetings provide opportunities for the children to share with each other and build a social community — and also offers time for teachers to reinforce the monthly character trait.  "Without building the community in the morning and throughout the month, I don't think that the academic instruction would be as successful," explained Lori McTamney,  a first grade teacher at the school. "Building the community has to come first, so that they feel that they're in a safe environment and that they feel comfortable talking with their friends and making connections with each other."  For January's theme of "acceptance," Mrs. McTamney's class took time during the Morning Meetings to talk about what that might look like.  "It's like if somebody is on the bench during recess and not doing anything," said First Grader Quinlan Husowitz.   "You might go over and say, 'Would you like to play with me?'"

A full school initiative

For some months, the school organizes a special school-wide activity around the character trait, like bringing everyone together for February's Olympic Rings photo.  In January, RP students talked about acceptance while they each made their own snowflake on a Panther Pride Day
afternoon.  "It taught us that we're all not the same," added Zoe.  "Everybody's different, and that makes us special."

Applying the new character trait

Signs around the school encourage students to "practice" their character trait, like Practice Kindness, Practice Acceptance or Practice Perseverance.  "It's because 'practice' always makes better," said School Counselor Susan Mayson, who oversees the program. "I truly believe that kids will do what you expect them to do, so if we expect them to be good citizens, they will
rise to the occasion. Plus, they really enjoy helping others and being kind."

Because the students are able to dig deeper into their character traits with each new grade level, RP highlights the same trait during the same month each year. This consistency also gives teachers the time to find books and other resources related to each trait. The year starts with friendship in September and ends with courage in June.