The St. Joseph School District is implementing a new curriculum dubbed CharacterStrong, an initiative that pushes for a more social-emotional atmosphere in schools and the community.
The curriculum is part of the district’s new Multi-Tiered System of Support efforts. Combined with various other programs, these efforts look to improve the climate and culture of the district while also focusing on bullying prevention and overall child development.
With CharacterStrong, the more emotional- and character-driven traits are recognized, not just by the students, but the staff as well.
“It contains really proactive approaches to classroom management and is very intentional about relationship building, which is probably our top priority,” Lara Gilpin, the principal at Spring Garden Middle School, said.
“It gives you a lot of different strategies and embeds that character piece.”
The curriculum, which cost the district just under $26,000, provides a number of character-development lessons that serve middle-school, high-school and alternative-school students.
Some of the lessons encourage teachers to issue “dares” to students, such as smiling and saying hello to students in the hallway who they may not interact with otherwise.
Meanwhile, teachers and staff meet to issue dares to each other, as well.
Gilpin recalled a teacher at Spring Garden who was dared to call five parents with the school to give them good news of their child, as such an occasion is usually reserved for children who misbehave.
“That really can turn things around for the parent, student and teacher,” Gilpin said. “When (that teacher) came in, she had made five calls and she said, ‘I felt really good about that.’”
Something as simple as greeting students at the door in the morning even has been implemented at Benton High School. The football team and band even welcomed students Friday morning with high-fives and music.
“We work extremely hard to teach each student academics, but academics are only part of every person,” Dr. Beery Johnson, the principal at Benton High School, said. “It’s great, because we work on the end-of-course exams, ACT scores … and those things are great predictors of how you might do in college, but it has almost no effect on how you’re going to do in life or how happy you’re going to be in life.”
He said much of the curriculum is used by teachers in various seminar classes.
The lessons also emphasize character traits and soft skills, such as the ability to learn from a mistake, work with others and know basic kindness.
“When you’re teaching kindness, how can that hurt anything?” Johnson said. “That’s a great thing for anyone to use in their everyday life.”