by NATHANIEL NELSON
At Goodview Elementary, students are taught many of the usual subjects, like math, reading, social studies, and science. However, there is one aspect that isn’t usually found in core subject textbooks –– good character. For more than a decade, Goodview has included a character education program titled “Character Counts” as part of its elementary curriculum, teaching students about traits such as respect, kindness, fairness and teamwork.
Fourth-grade teacher Kim Moran has been in charge of the program for the last several years, along with the other fourth-grade teachers. She explained that each month, the school picks a single aspect on which to focus and incorporate into the students’ lesson plan. This month, the topic was teamwork, with past traits covering everything from being honest to showing empathy.
“The character traits aren’t something in the curriculum, so we thought it would be good to build our own curriculum for character traits so the kids can be good citizens in school, in the community and at home,” Moran said.
Each topic is accompanied by an activity, which varies from grade to grade and classroom to classroom. The first activity is provided, Moran said, but most teachers add extra activities a couple times a month to expand on the trait and get students more involved.
“Depending on what they’re working on, it could be a book we read to them and have a discussion, or a little video to show, or maybe making a little project,” Moran said. “Sometimes, it can be a challenge, like using teamwork to make the longest paper chain.”
The activities are only one part of the program, Moran added. Students also have discussions about different character traits, including how to use them, when they’re necessary and when they’ve used the traits themselves.
“They love it, and they always have lots of examples,” Moran said. “We have really rich discussion on how to show that character trait and how we’re going to model that character trait.”
Goodview Principal Emily Cassellius said when she first started working at the school as a teacher in 2005, “Character Counts” was already a part of the school’s programming. Over the years, the program has helped to create a community within the school, she explained –– evidenced by a student coming in mid-interview to give Cassellius the last of her birthday cupcakes, and snag a hug on her way out.
“Character education is part of this student environment,” Cassellius explained. “We have expectations of being really good. Being respectful and being kind is part of our whole school environment.”
Students are also chosen each month as those who do the best with each traits, and gathered together for a photo on the “Character Counts” bulletin board. They each get a pencil and certificate, but Moran said the award means more than that.
“I think it just makes them more aware about the things they are doing, too.” Moran continued, “It’s just a pencil and an award, but getting that distinction is a cool thing. This is a way to focus on the positive behaviors of our students.”
That focus on positive behavior goes all the way up, including in how the school handles misbehavior. Cassellius explained that when she meets with students who are having difficulties in the classroom, whether that’s with being respectful or being a good listener, she has something to use aside from things like detention.
“When I meet with students who maybe struggle with one of the character traits, I can go back to those lessons and work with them,” Cassellius said. “We focus on how to teach them instead of just discipline.”
Above all, Cassellius said, the program is used for education and improving student outlook as they go through their formative years. Goodview is the only school in the district with this program, but that doesn’t cut down its importance.
“So much of what we do is setting kids up for success, and having strong character is really important,” Cassellius said. “How to be a good student, good friend, and a good person in general sets them up for success.”