‘Like nailing Jell-O to a tree’
SUMMIT COVE – Julie McCluskie knows that trying to teach students integrity along with their geography, let alone measure the success of such an effort, will be difficult. But, she said, that’s no excuse not to try.Funded by a three-year, $150,000 grant from the Colorado Trust focusing on bullying prevention, McCluskie began work this year as the Summit School District’s climate coordinator, charged with making the district a more “caring community.”McCluskie knows the real challenge of her work will not be forming goals, but achieving them. She worked previously in the corporate world, where she tried to make employees understand company values. Things like honesty and integrity are hard to live by if everyone understands them differently, so she said the first step in the schools will be to develop a consensus on what the end results should be.School Board member Stuart Adams agreed.
“It’s hard to know how you’re doing if you don’t know where you’re going,” he said when character education was discussed at the board’s Sept. 14 meeting. “I’m really worried about that.”Fellow board member Jon Kreamelmeyer noted that implementing and measuring character education “is like nailing Jell-O to a tree.” Despite logistical concerns, however, the board supports the initiative. McCluskie sought to allay some fears about the ideas’ effectiveness, discussing the Fort Collins-based Discovery program already being implemented at the middle school. The program, which focuses on six buzzwords (such as prepared, prompt and polite) has met great support.The buzzwords are integrated into all aspects of the day, McCluskie said, and students are reminded to follow them whether in the classroom, at lunch or on the playground. Students who succeed are offered positive reinforcement.
Many schools also have their own positive reinforcement programs, such as Upper Blue Elementary, where students are rewarded with decorative hawks, the school mascot, to post on bulletin boards honoring good behavior.The process of building a comprehensive districtwide approach to character education is just beginning, McCluskie said. Eventually a districtwide program will take shape, at which time student, staff and parent surveys, as well as other methods, will be used to monitor the efforts’ success.But watching a statistical drop in the number of students sent to the office won’t satisfy McCluskie, who said that changing the atmosphere of the schools for the better is the true aim.”(We’ve been) focusing on that majority of students who aren’t involved in bullying incidents, and getting them to step forward and create a climate and a culture where bullying isn’t tolerated as an acceptable behavior – moving that bystander from a passive position into an active one,” she said.
When it comes to the personal education of a child, parents also play a crucial role, and area schools made sure to acknowledge that fact. “Creating caring learners” has been a phrase attached to character education, but Superintendent Millie Hamner clarified that it is the role of the schools to “develop” caring learners, not create them.For her part, Summit Cove parent Siri Olsen, who was present at the Sept. 14 board meeting, counts herself as one of the many parents “trying their best and failing at times.” She expressed some concern over the idea of character education in the schools in connection with her own parenting efforts.”I want to work with you, but I don’t want you treading on what I’m trying to do at home,” she told the board.McCluskie said that while there are many reasons why the schools should be engaged in the value education of a child, there is certainly a point at which the responsibility of the school stops and the responsibility of the parent begins.”We’re trying to support what families are trying to accomplish and help children be as effective as they can in the school environment,” she said.
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