The following post was written by Barbara Gruener, Westwood Elementary Counselor and Lynn Hobratschk, Westwood Elementary Principal. Gruener will be presenting at the 17th National Forum on Character Education.
In a town settled by Quakers, otherwise known as Friends, Principle 10 wasn’t too difficult to sell. A small bedroom community outside of Houston, Friendswood was founded with core values in mind. But knowing about character and putting character into action are two different things, so in 1987 a group of 120 concerned citizens gathered to decide which values would be important to focus on for the students and families in the Friendswood Independent School District. And so our character education initiative began.
When it needed a booster shot, the School Board revitalized and consolidated the initiative by adopting the Character Counts! (CC!) framework in 2001. Westwood Elementary, one of six schools in the district, has been weaving the Six Pillars of Character into the very fabric of our school ever since.
Stakeholders help make Westwood Elementary School a caring community. Our character-building efforts today are extensive; parent and community volunteers clock an average of 1,210 hours per month. Westwood’s Parent-Teacher Organization intentionally organizes family gatherings outside of the school day like grade-level Skate Nights, Donuts with Dudes and Divas, BEAR (Be Enthusiastic About Reading) Night and the annual Round-Up Carnival. These moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas are vital to our school success.
They get very creative in their fundraising efforts by offering teacher treats as silent auction items, creating great connections for kids. For example, the principal donated a bowling outing, the counselor donated a cooking lesson, the assistant principal donated a canoe trip, some teachers donated a movie night, and another teacher donated a picnic in the park. These outings really energize students because they get to spend some quality time with their character role models and faculty, and the treats energize faculty because they get to better know their students more personally while the school benefits financially.
Teenagers from Friendswood High School regularly visit our campus. As Peer Assistance and Leadership (PAL) students, they come to us weekly to mentor. As Math Club members, they tutor. As Hometown Heroes, they lead pep rallies and serve as role models. As Future Farmers of America, they bring their animals once a year for a Go Texan Day. Health Occupations Student Association students serve as Germ Busters and come to teach us healthy habits. Integrity Teams prepare and teach a monthly character lesson.
Adult mentors from all walks of life are also vital to our character building. Principal’s Partners volunteer to tutor and read one-on-one with students who need a little extra boost. Mystery Readers from the community share their favorite books to make a literacy connection. Parent volunteers cover classes so teachers can participate in our Lunch Bunch program that treats staff to a lunch out with others who have a birthday that month.
Also, The Rotary Club partners with us to help bring our service-learning projects full circle; last year they put money aside to ship the items that we had collected for two “adopted” soldiers on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Friendswood Police Department sends a D.A.R.E. officer to conduct safety trainings with our students and teach them refusal skills, courage, and safety.
The local Knitting Guild volunteers to assist in our Knit-For-Service Club efforts. These mentors help our students learn to knit so that they can make caps for newborns and patches for blankets in their quest to reduce the infant mortality rate and Warm Up America! Area and family Veterans are invited and honored by our first graders on Veterans’ Day.
When we hosted a Career Awareness Day last May, some 45 community workers signed up to join us and share information about their career paths with our future leaders.
Finally, the school intentionally works to welcome families to spend some time with us after hours. In a typical year, we’ll host Family Math and Wellness Night, Family Character Night, Literacy Night, What’s Up at Westwood Night, Grandparents’ Night, Parent Preview, and a Second-Grade Musical.
It truly does take a village to raise a child, and at Westwood, we appreciate the unique contribution of every villager as we constantly welcome new friends to the fold.