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They close the article with a quote from yours truly. It's exciting, though a little awkward that the writer chose to quote me instead of my Program Manager or our Executive Director. The 2 schools mentioned (Charles Mack and Prairie) are schools I've worked very closely with for almost 4 years now. (Free to Learn is the program I've coordinated since I started here). They are some of my star schools and I'm so proud of the recognition they're getting. 2 weeks ago, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell (the top dog in education in CA) came to a recognition ceremony we had at Charles Mack, and said great stuff about character education and what we've been doing.
Local schools blend education about social values and citizenship into the curriculum
By Melissa Nix - Bee Staff Writer
Last Updated 12:50 am PDT Tuesday, March 13, 2007 Story appeared in METRO section, Page B1
Six-year-old Isayla Dorrough, left, exchanges a smile with Jaylynn Pernell, 5, during a kindergarten lesson earlier this month at Charles Mack Elementary School in Elk Grove. Charles Mack is one of 15 area schools that are embracing a national trend to teach children not just the traditional three R's but responsibility and respect as well. Sacramento Bee/Florence Low
Teresa Faruzzi recently gave her second-grade class a peculiar assignment.
The Charles Mack Elementary students had to decide whether an animal's camouflage was helpful or harmful to others. They scanned science books to pick a critter.
The assignment's intent was to help students connect a character value -- such as respect or fairness -- to an animal's ability to camouflage itself.
Oscar Lopez-Barragan, 8, chose a kind of heron called a bittern.
"It camouflages in a good way," said Oscar. "By not getting seen by hunters, it won't die and nothing will happen to it."
Charles Mack is one of 15 area elementary schools that have embraced a national trend to teach social values and character in the classroom.
Prairie Elementary -- also part of the Elk Grove Unified School District -- is another.
"Character education is, like, the foundation of my classroom," said Carly Davenport, who teaches fourth grade at Prairie. "If my students didn't have the basis of those six traits, I don't think I would be able to run my classroom effectively."
By traits, Davenport was referring to groups of qualities that the Center for Youth Citizenship says are essential to building character: caring, giving and service; justice and fairness; leadership, initiative and teamwork; respect; responsibility; and trustworthiness.
The Sacramento-area nonprofit helps California schools blend character and citizenship education into curriculum through a program called "Free to Learn."
The center offers lessons and program support, but schools ultimately choose how they teach character and whether they use the "Free to Learn" program.
And the approaches vary greatly.
Students at Charles Mack often engage in role-playing as a way to discuss topics like responsibility or why bullies bully. They also write essays.
At Prairie, teachers and students receive incentives -- schoolwide recognition, sashes, little trinkets -- for displaying good character or defining it well.
Teachers at both schools find ways to tease character lessons out of math instruction or story time. Some rely on rote memorization, but others use more creative tactics.
Prairie chooses a trait to focus on schoolwide each month. March is "respect," said sixth-grade teacher Chris Clark.
His students talk about all manner of good character traits.
"Responsibility is like, doing what you are supposed to do," said Antonio Urbano, 12.
Izeal Hollins, also 12, said he showed "caring" when he lent his friend a pencil. "We were gonna take a test, and he was begging people, and I said, 'Just have one of mine,' " he said.
Kong Lao, 11, said he liked the trait "respect" best. "If your friend invites you to a party and your friend's cousin -- they're not fluent in your language -- you can teach them some English. That's caring and respectful."
School administrators say the results of character education are showing up in improved academic achievement and fewer behavioral problems.
Fawzia Keval, who became Prairie's principal four years ago, said the school faces a lot of socio-economic challenges -- inside and out.
"When I came here, it was pretty chaotic. There were a lot of suspensions," Keval said. "My purpose is to keep kids in school rather than suspend them."
Prairie Vice Principal Carla Gaymon-Victor said suspensions have fallen from eight to 12 per week on average last year to three per week this year.
"If I get more than two kids in one day, I start saying, 'What's wrong?' " he said.
Suspensions at Charles Mack have decreased by 50 percent, said Vice Principal William Ward.
Both schools have shown increases on the state's Academic Performance Index since launching character education four years ago.
In recognition, both schools were named 2007 California Schools of Character, an award sponsored by local and national character education advocates. They were among three California schools to receive the honor.
State Superintendent of Instruction Jack O'Connell presented the award at Charles Mack earlier this month. He told The Bee it "pains" him when parents say they've moved their child to private school, not for religious reasons, but because they believe character education is lacking in public schools.
Concepts of responsibility, consideration, respect and integrity need to be embedded in California curriculum, he said.
Christina Roper, a program coordinator at the Center for Youth Citizenship, said schools relinquished the role of teaching morals and civic virtues in the 1960s.
"But a child being respectful is not controversial," she said. "Schools lose a lot of instructional time due to misbehavior."
Third-graders at Charles Mack Elementary School - from left, Maritza Ramirez, Jorge Garcia, Jesus Lopez and Juliana Mendoza - work on multiplication. Teachers there and elsewhere are finding ways to educate their pupils about values, even in math class. Sacramento Bee/Florence Low
Goethe Middle School students Alisi Finau, left, and Michael Zamora, both 13, practice peer mediation during conflict resolution training class at the campus on Wednesday. Sacramento Bee/Anne Chadwick Williams