'Character Counts!' Will Make You A Star


You're not going to find yourself on "Candid Camera." And this isn't your big chance to earn a fortune on "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire."

But if you agree to be taped reading a character message by a student video crew from Rim Country Middle School, you just might end up changing a young person's life.

Crews of RCMS students are out in the Rim country looking for people who are willing to take a few minutes to read one of several hundred prepared messages emphasizing one of the six pillars of character that are the foundation of the Character Counts! program being implemented throughout the Payson Unified School District.

"We got these 300 messages called 'Words of Wisdom' from the Character Counts! people that go along with the six pillars, and I was supposed to read one each day over the intercom," RCMS Principal Frank Larby said. "I liked the idea, but listening to me every day is going to get a little boring after awhile, and I thought, well, why just do it over the intercom when we can videotape it. The kids will pay more attention to it."

Larby began by having students read the messages on camera, then expanded the tapings to include teachers and parents who were willing to stop by the school and be videotaped. Thanks to the Channel 1 video news program the school subscribes to, all classrooms have televisions.

"We can just punch this into every classroom from the library," Larby said.

But a key component to the effectiveness of Character Counts! is to get the entire community involved and using the same terminology in talking about character traits. So Larby decided it made perfect sense to take his video production crew on the road out into local businesses where community leaders could tape messages of wisdom and inspiration.

"We're extending the idea a little bit so the kids aren't just seeing the principal and their teachers, but they're seeing people they know in the community, and they're all emphasizing good character traits," he said.

So far, the response from the business community has been enthusiastic, but there are plenty of messages to go around.

"We've been doing it now for about three weeks, and I've got enough messages to go through this school year and probably the next," Larby said. "What I'm hoping to do is to get a lot of different people from different parts of the community."

The scripted messages emphasize such behaviors as not hurting others feelings with unkind words, turning to parents and others who love you when things are not going well, and being able to forgive yourself. The latter quotes Jonathan Swift: "A man should never be ashamed to admit he has been wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday."

But Larby encourages people to deliver their own messages about character if they are so inclined.

"The scripts are there, but if people want to speak from the heart and from personal experience, that's great," he said.

Part of an initiative by Governor Jane Hull, Character Counts! will eventually provide a voluntary, non-partisan, non-religious based character education training program throughout Arizona. PUSD, which initiated a pilot program last year, is one of the first school districts to participate.

The program is designed to reduce youth violence, crime, pregnancy, sexually-transmitted diseases and other anti-social conduct. It was established to raise awareness of the need to teach and model core values that are acceptable to liberals and conservatives as well as to secular and faith-based communities.

These core values, known as the "Six Pillars of Character," are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. The goal is to immerse the six pillars into every aspect of the school program, including both curricular and non-curricular activities.

Larby admits that it's easier to get elementary school students to buy into the program.

"Some of these kids aren't going to be as talkative about it or maybe as easily influenced, but if you keep repeating it and making it the standard, it sinks in," he said.

To accomplish this at RCMS, teachers are incorporating the program into the classroom in every way possible.

"The teachers have bulletin boards, or they make it part of their lesson," Larby said. "We're trying to emphasize with our teachers that teaching character really doesn't involve any extra work. You don't really have to teach another lesson."

Character Counts! also is emphasized in the school's monthly assemblies, and the winning entry in a school-wide character slogan contest will be made into a bumper sticker and distributed communitywide. The winning entry, submitted by seventh graders Erin Pitterle and Sara Sjonborg: "Take Responsibility for Your Actions."

To participate in the video taping program, call Larby at 474-4511.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.