SIKESTON -- Simple things like holding a door open for someone, picking up trash or telling the truth may go unnoticed in the every day hustle and bustle of the adult workforce, but at schools like Morehouse Elementary and Scott County Central, these selfless acts by students are rewarded and reinforced.
A recent study funded by the Radnor, Pa.-based John Templeton Foundation suggests schools with character education programs in place like those at Morehouse Elementary and Scott County Central are finding positive results such as helping students perform better academically as well as improve their attitudes toward their selves and others.
In the fall of 2001, Morehouse Elementary teachers and staff began what they dubbed "Character Counts" a character education program aimed at teaching children traits society as a whole thinks are important.
"We do not do it by reading about it on announcements and posters -- that's all good, but we want it to be more of an attitude -- the ways we interact with kids and the way we come across in teaching and not just talking," explained Morehouse Elementary Principal Jeff Williams.
Sandy Estes, a Title I reading teacher at Morehouse who's been teaching for 28 years at the school, said character education is definitely having an impact on the students. For example sometimes teachers hear comments from the students such as "That's not showing good character" when one child may do something inappropriate.
"When the kids are repeating it, we know it's clicking," Estes said.
Students who choose to say an unkind thing about someone, in return, must write 10 good things about the same person, Estes said.
Statistics are also showing signs of improvement with the students, Williams said. He compared discipline referrals from the 2001-2002 school year to the 2002-2003 school year, and there was almost 100 less discipline referrals in 2002-2003.
Attendance is also up, Williams said. It's not really where the school wants it to be, but it is improved, he said. However, they're still working on raising test scores, he added.
Scott County Central also began a character education program at the beginning of the 2001-2002 school year. Jerry Brehmer, co-coordinator of the character education program at Scott County Central, said he hasn't kept official stats, but discipline referrals are also down.
Staff at Scott Central tries to incorporate character education in every thing they do -- in classroom discussions or behavior of students -- they try to give recognition of students for their good character, Brehmer said.
Each school's character education program is different and each of their character traits are decided on in different ways. At Scott Central, character traits include a positive work ethic, respect for self and others, self control, tolerance, cooperation and trustworthiness.
"Not that teachers haven't always tried to model character education, but I think to do it in a conscious way, to focus on it and to give it more importance is more effective than to give it a haphazard approach," Brehmer said.
Each day teachers look for an opportunity to incorporate character education into school, Brehmer said. It's particularly easy with social studies and language arts.
Any time there are people and historical events, choices are always made and outcomes had, Brehmer said. Teachers can have students think about things in terms of choices, character and values, he pointed out.
"The things we are focusing on are basic civility and social skills everybody agrees are important," Brehmer said. Character is so important for kids, Williams said, adding they need that positive reinforcement constantly.
For every one negative remark about someone, it takes at least 10 positive remarks to build you back up where you were, Williams pointed out.
"If we're going to have adults who are people of character, we have to teach them what those character traits are and practice them at a young age," Williams said.
Williams said he first came into contact with character education when he was finishing his master's degree about four years ago and searching for a topic for a paper he was writing.
"One of our biggest things that's hurting us is we're so busy in our society," Williams said. "We go, go, go, especially with our families. We need to cut back, simplify and spend time with our kids. We need to communicate with them."
Williams, who spoke at the national character education conference at St. Louis in July, has branched out to other schools in the Sikeston School District, which also have character education programs in place, to speak to parents and community members.
"To be faithful and honest is not very much applauded in a lot of every day activities, and I was just so encouraged to see somebody was trying to do something," said Sikeston resident Harriet Craig, who's heard Williams speak on character education.
Although Craig doesn't have any children attending Morehouse Elementary, she said she gets the gist of what character education is all about.
"It's not just an outward thing -- it's an attitude that comes from the home," Craig said. "You have to change on the inside for it to work on the outside."