In addition to reading, writing and arithmetic, Lakewood Elementary is teaching some of the other basics, such as honesty, respect and loyalty.

The school implemented a new character-building curriculum this school year with specific lesson plans to teach students how to respect themselves and others.

“I know a lot of these children are getting this background at home,” says Lakewood principal Karen Rogers.

“But if the home can’t or needs support, then the school can step in,” Rogers says.

At Lakewood last year, school staff and parents noticed similar situations with students that kept cropping up – some students didn’t know how to treat others with respect.

Some students wouldn’t obey volunteer parents on the playground. Other students were rude and disrespectful to teachers and cafeteria workers. Some students didn’t take care of their personal belongings.

As these complaints accumulated, Lakewood’s parents and staff decided to take it into their own hands to teach students basic character traits.

Rogers delegated the job of creating a character education curriculum last spring to the school’s Social Interaction Committee, which is made up of the school’s teachers, parents and administrators. Parent Pat Nagler, who serves on the committee, spearheaded the project.

Nagler started researching what would be best for Lakewood. Surveys sent to parents showed that most people believe in some core traits – self-discipline, responsibility, honesty, human worth, respect for others, self-esteem and integrity.

Nagler also searched for character-building education programs. She found one through Houston Independent School District, which bases its program on CHARLIE, Chemical Abuse Resolution Lies In Education, a Minnesota program that teaches young children character traits to prevent drug use.

HISD officials personalized the program to meet HISD’s needs and helped Lakewood do the same. HISD even trained Lakewood’s teachers and administrators in implementing the program for a nominal fee.

Each month, the school focuses on a character trait, with weekly 30-minute lesson plans presented in all classes. Monthly newsletters with suggestions on how to reinforce the lessons at home are sent to parents. The program cost about $1,700 to implement, with costs covered by donations from community businesses and the school’s parents, Nagler says.

“In implementing the program, we stopped taking it for granted that this was being taught somewhere else,” Nagler says.

The monthly traits are self-esteem, self-discipline, respect, trust, loyalty, justice, commitment, honesty and self-reliance. The lesson plans include a discussion of what the trait means and how it pertains to the students’ lives, followed by an activity or game.

Bulletin boards and banners hang in the school’s hallways to illustrate the trait, and school announcements are tied into the lessons.

It is hard to measure the program’s success, but Rogers and Nagler say they have received positive feedback from parents and teachers.

“They say don’t expect a problem situation to get better overnight,” Nagler says. “You’re sowing the seed.”

Even though the lessons may not have immediate effects, they are important because there is more to education than learning multiplication and recycling, Rogers says. “They also need to know how to be self-reliant and trustworthy,” she says.

Teaching character in school is nothing new, but sometimes education, as an institution, loses its focus on character lessons, Rogers says.

“It’s old. But that pendulum swings,” she says.

Good teachers always fit character building into their lesson plans, Rogers says. But often the messages are inconsistent with those provided by other teachers, parents and school administrators. By having one consistent lesson and message, the children are getting the meaning, Rogers says.

After the school decided to pursue setting up a character program, DISD sent out a directive telling all schools they have to develop a character building curriculum.

“It’s important for the child to know that the school, as an institution, thinks there are certain traits that are important,” Rogers says.

“Now, the only institution that all kids will pass are the public schools,” Rogers says. “The schools are the only place you can get common principles.”

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