Messages about the six pillars of character are posted everywhere in Jennifer Baker's fifth-grade classroom at Frontier Elementary School.
And the pillars trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship are incorporated into most of the learning activities her students are engaged in.
While the Character Counts program is being implemented throughout the Payson Unified School District and in some other districts around the state, Baker is one of its most enthusiastic proponents. In fact, she has just been named the sole teacher representative on Gov. Jane Hull's Character Education Commission.
"The idea behind the program is to immerse the six pillars into every aspect of the school program, including both curricular and non-curricular activities," Baker said. "But the program also has to get into the home to be really successful."
The commission's goal is provide inspiration and motivation to educators and parents alike.
"They've done a really good job of getting people on it they've got people from the governor's office, big corporation people, community people, a principal.
Character Counts is a program being implemented in several states that is designed to reduce youth violence, crime, pregnancy, sexually-transmitted diseases and other anti-social conduct. It focuses on the need to teach and model core values that are non-partisan and non-religious based so they are acceptable to liberals and conservatives as well as to secular and faith-based communities.
"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," Hull said when she introduced the program in 1999. PUSD is one of the first districts in the state to introduce Character Counts.
As Baker provides an update on how the program is going in the district, students in her classroom form a circle, each holding a purple balloon. On cue, they toss the balloons in the air, so each student ends up with somebody else's balloon. Then they enthusiastically pop the balloons to get at slips of paper inside on which their classmates have written paragraphs in which each student nominates himself as citizen of the year.
Now Baker's students are reading the nominations for citizen of the year aloud. Specific acts of character they've performed include everything from picking up trash to telling the truth to performing any number of acts of kindness.
As the list grows longer, the vision of Payson High School teacher Terri McKee, who originally learned about Character Counts at a conference she attended, comes to mind.
In areas of the country where it has already been instituted, McKee said, it works best as a multi-year, long-term program.
"If you have a pre-schooler," she said, "she's going to learn the six pillars in a goofy little song. Then in kindergarten, she'll hear it again and learn how to use the word 'caring.' In third grade, she'll hear the same thing, and there will be a character of the month program. There will be assemblies and T-shirts and the pillars will be worked into lessons in the classroom. Teachers will model the six pillars.
"Then after 13 years of exposure, the six pillars will hopefully have become a way of life for our young people."