I'm able to respond. I'm able.
I'm able, yeah. Response able ..."
On a recent Friday morning, Julia Randall Elementary students clap along as the fourth grade choir belts out a song.
Led by music teacher Kathy Kaufman, the choir's performance helps students relate to the "Six Pillars of Character" that make up the Character Counts! program. PUSD, along with the Strawberry-Pine School District, were the first in the state to adopt the program established by Governor Jane Hull.
The six pillars trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship will eventually become an integral part of every student's school experience from kindergarten through graduation.
"No matter what the outside throws at me,
I'm choosin' to react responsibly with
Decency, fairness, honesty, respect.
Discipline, justice, courage, and respect.
Integrity, compassion, morality, respect ..."
The JRE assembly is a time for students to sing, laugh, and feel good about themselves and their school. Students with birthdays are serenaded, a video features students mugging it up and "Terrific Kids" receive certificates for good grades and citizenship.
The philosophy behind Character Counts! is that while families bear primary responsibility for character development, an era when families spend less time together means schools need to do more. The programs are designed to model values acceptable to both secular and faith-oriented communities.
A 1999 survey of more than 6,000 students in South Dakota, where Character Counts! was introduced several years ago, revealed a profound effect on behavior drinking, drug use and cheating fell, while the number of students who volunteered increased.
I'm responsible for what I do.
I'm responsible for what I do..."
In the South Dakota survey, teachers reported "greater ease using the program with younger students" who were "more likely to view it positively and with optimism." That reality is reflected in the faces of the JRE students.
Meanwhile at Rim Country Middle School, Principal Frank Larby reports that teachers have decided to make this a planning year, and introduce the program next year.
While family and consumer sciences teacher Terri McKee is introducing the program to her students, the major focus at PHS is making sure everybody is "beginning to use the same terminology," guidance counselor Judith Michel said.
Knowing that impressionable elementary students are more likely to buy into the program, the elementary schools are going all out introducing the pillars at the rate of one a month.
"Character Counts! is really catching on," said JRE Principal Sue Clark. At the last assembly, we did trustworthiness, and we had this video that told the kids not to deceive, cheat or steal, " she said. "It worked out so well because something had actually been stolen from a teacher. I had to meet with two children and two sets of parents, and I was able to relate it back to the trustworthiness pillar."
The three schools also held assemblies recently featuring a troupe of singing and dancing college students from around the country called Primary Focus, a nonprofit group dedicated to promoting Character Counts! "It was a great experience for the kids," said Frontier Elementary School Principal Sue Myers. "They even did a song about responsibility in a country-western mode that was a big hit."
Another event that inspired local educators was a meeting Feb. 12 with state educators who provided new classroom materials. "An exciting idea that came out of the meeting was to hold a district-wide Character Counts! parents night," Myers said.
While a date has not been finalized, it will be held in April in the PHS auditorium. "Actions have consequences, don't you see?
Choose your behavior, act responsibly ..."
With the excited voices of 389 students fading into the distance, Clark stands in the suddenly silent cafeteria and expresses her enthusiasm for the program. "It's great," she said. "It's so real to the situations kids actually experience in life."