R - E - S - P - E - C - T.
The sounds echoed off the walls of the Frontier Elementary School dome and, school officials hoped, into the minds and hearts of the students seated in neat rows on the floor.
Respect is the first of the six pillars of the new Character Counts! program being introduced into all schools in the Payson Unified School District. Frontier literally got the jump on the rest by employing the Payson High School cheerleaders to introduce the concept to students at a recent flag assembly.
To bring the message home to students, each cheerleader was introduced by name and proceeded to explain to the assemblage how she showed respect.
"The cheerleaders then did a cheer and showed off their gymnastics skills," FES Principal Sue Myers said.
Frontier officials intend to introduce a new pillar each month, with teachers and students then focusing on that pillar in the classroom and in their relations with others during that month. "We will feature the pillar every morning on the announcements, with classes taking turns sharing the ways they have come up with to show respect," Myers said.
Character Counts! is a new education initiative put forward by Gov. Jane Hull which she hopes will eventually become a statewide program. PUSD has taken a leadership role as one of the first districts in the state to begin introducing it.
The program began in October 1999, when the governor created a Character Education Commission to provide voluntary character education training to educators and non-profit organizations throughout the state. Headed by former member of the state Board of Regents Eddie Basha, the commission is working with business, non-profit organizations and educators to raise the funds needed to implement character education pilot programs in a number of schools this year.
Non-partisan, non-religious character education programs, which have already been implemented by Texas, Arkansas and several other states, are based on the concept that while parents have the primary role for teaching morals and values to their children, schools also need to play a larger role in character education. "It is our responsibility as parents, grandparents, friends, educators and leaders to give our children the opportunity to grow into responsible, caring and respectful citizens," the governor said.
FES second-grade teacher Jennifer Baker, who was one of her school's representatives at a Character Development Workshop sponsored by the state, has placed class activities in each teacher's mailbox to help them introduce and integrate the respect pillar into classroom lessons and activities. In addition, faculty members are working on their own version of the Aretha Franklin song, but they haven't revealed how they plan to use it just yet.
FES flag ceremonies will be used to introduce the other pillars. Chosen because they are core values that are acceptable to liberals and conservatives as well as to secular and faith-based communities, those pillars are, in addition to respect, trustworthiness, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.
The goal of the Character Counts! program is to immerse the six pillars into every aspect of the school program, including both curricular and non-curricular activities. But each school within the Payson district is following its own timetable and is customizing the program to address the specific needs of its students and community.
Myers said she has a poster in her office with all six pillars.
"When a student gets in trouble, we talk about the problem in terms of which pillar was not upheld," she said.
Another very important aspect of the program is community involvement. FES leaders hope to line up sponsors and involve parents to keep the cost of the program minimal.
"We've been talking about billboards, flags, having the pillars imprinted on Safeway bags," Baker said.
Myers said she's excited by the fact that she has already received a call from Wal-Mart about the program.
"They wanted to know what our pillars were so they could use (them) with their employees," she said.
Once Character Counts! is in place across the district, it will become a total immersion program.
"After 13 years of exposure, the six pillars will hopefully become a way of life for our young people," said Payson High School teacher Teri McKee, one of the leaders in bringing the program to the Rim country.
Myers emphasized that the six pillars are something the entire community can get behind. "I was on KMOG the other morning and a parent called in and asked how we had decided on those six," Myers said.
"I said it was easy; these are six things that everybody believes in."