Perry County principal: Character program has helped students

Monday, November 8, 2010

PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- The Perry County School District has quantifiable proof that character counts.

Its Character Education Program, based on the idea that good character builds a foundation for all success, has a distinguished reputation. More important, administrators say, is the difference the initiative is making in academic performance and in the mindset of students.

"We have seen a drastic change in the climate of the school, fewer discipline referrals, fewer failures in the classrooms and a greater sense of belonging," said Velda Haertling, principal of Perry County Middle School.

Last year, the middle school received the Missouri School of Character award, sponsored by the Character Education Partnership and participating State Schools of Character sponsors. The school was one of nine, and the only middle school, to earn the honor out of hundreds.

On Tuesday, Perry County Middle School will host a parent meeting night to discuss initiatives under the umbrella of character education, including the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Since the program's implementation, bullying reports have declined more than 50 percent, Haertling said.

The district, too, is reaping the rewards of its Positive Behavior Support program. A system of constant positive reinforcement, the program goes by different names but is practiced in schools throughout Southeast Missouri. Haertling said the Perry County School District is celebrating more success through character education.

"Quite honestly, the D's and F's in our schools have gone down dramatically," she said, although she acknowledges the district isn't posting "massive increases" on Missouri Assessment Program tests.

The Perry County School District contracts with CHARACTERplus, a St. Louis-based project of school districts working to advance the cause of character education, according to the organization's website.

The CHARACTERplus Way, as it is billed, has produced marked success systemwide, according to Diane Stirling, coordinator of professional development and member services for the organization. Two federal studies conducted over a four-year period with 40 and 64 Missouri schools, respectively, show:

* Academic improvement increased as much as 54 percent in math and 47 percent in communication arts as measured by the Missouri Assessment Program.

* Discipline referrals decreased 41 percent.

* Staff-parent relations, school leadership and staff collaboration all increased.

The program has its detractors. Alfie Kohn, author and critic of character education in his article "How Not to Teach Values," said the program simplifies the complex nature of character.

"Teachers and schools tend to mistake good behavior for good character," Kohn writes. "What they prize is docility, suggestibility; the child who will do what he is told; or even better, the child who will do what is wanted without even having to be told."

Advocates like Haertling see character education as well worth the price and that the results are clear in the classrooms and hallways.

"It's not only about being a smarter person but a better person," the principal said. "It's amazing how it has changed the whole mindset of expected behavior."

Character education has taken a funding hit in recent years. The Missouri Legislature, which had allocated $800,000 annually for character-based programming, cut the budget by $700,000, which, Stirling said, "meant the immediate dismantling" of the program at the state level. The Perry County School District is the only public school system in the immediate Southeast Missouri area to employ character education, Stirling said.


Pertinent address:

326 College St., Perryville, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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