The following was written by Denise Arvidson, principal, Col. John Robinson School, Westford, Massachusetts.
Peace-It-Together: Character Education Strategies for Life
What do playgrounds, lunchrooms, buses, after school programs and neighborhoods all have in common? They are the “hot spots” where many social and behavioral issues take root and then encroach on classroom learning time. Twelve years ago, some members of our school decided to take a proactive approach and formed a study group to address these issues. The result was a curriculum to give students the skills and strategies to become effective problem solvers in and out of school.
As we developed and implemented lessons, the Peace-It-Together program was born. The program has three components that include lessons on Building Community, Making and Keeping Friends and Making a Difference.
Key to the program is the process of establishing a common language and expectations for students in all settings. This is an ongoing and continuous process involving our entire school community. Our school motto is “At Robinson School We All CARE.” The focus is on each of our core values: Community, Acceptance, Responsibility and Excellence. Students who display these values are recognized by all members of our staff with coupons proclaiming they are “Kids Who Care.” An essential feature of the program is having each student visit the principal/assistant principal to share the reason why the accolade he or she earned the accolade.
Engaging parents and the community at large in support of our goals is essential. We introduce the program to parents as we welcome them into our school community at Parent Information Nights and Curriculum Nights. Brochures sent home at the beginning of the school year include information about the I Care Rules, Solution Wheel and common language used in our school. Parents are eager to attend the many workshops offered on our character education endeavors.
Finding time for character education in an already full academic program is always a challenge. The solution is to further integrate character education into the curriculum. For example, writing prompts may ask students to write about a time when they were responsible or caring. During literacy, shared reading experiences may include literature from the CARE to Read collection. These books focus on each core value in an age-appropriate manner. The Little Engine That Could could exemplify the core value of Excellence and trying your best. In social studies, students study famous Americans and discuss the character traits of historical figures such as Rosa Parks, Neil Armstrong and even our school’s namesake, Revolutionary War hero, Col. John Robinson.
Social skills and pragmatic language learning are integrated into the day with the Recess Club program. Teachers and specialists meet regularly with classes during snack time. Topics include strategies for making recess successful such as how to invite a friend to play and what to do if the friend declines the invitation. Teachers role play strategies and then guide students in applying these strategies during recess. Parents are routinely updated through a Recess Club newsletter so that they may follow-up with students at home.
Our School Advisory Council consults at each monthly meeting about current Peace-It-Together initiatives and compassion projects.
The community supports our annual compassion projects, which include collecting hats and mittens for homeless families, making gift bags for senior citizens and conducting a pet food and book drives.
The School Advisory Council surveys parents every two years and the feedback about our social competency program and school climate is quite positive. Parents report that they are successfully employing the program’s common language and strategies at home and that their children are aware and invested in our core values and goals. A recent survey of our second grade students indicated that 98% knew of at least two strategies from the Solution Wheel to try when experiencing a problem situation.
Recently a parent reported that her son told her he was angry with a classmate and wanted to retaliate but thought about it and said, “I can’t do that because I go to an I CARE School”! In our opinion there is no better testimony to the impact of our work on students’ lives in and out of school!