4,000 Ways That Prove Character Counts

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Four thousand cans of food.

That’s what the Frontier Elementary School student council-led We Care We Share food drive has raised this holiday season, more than doubling the totals amassed during previous food drives.

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Fifth-graders Mary Hagen and Chandler Sylvester, president and vice president of the FES student council, are confident the cans their class donated to the school’s annual food drive were enough to turn back a challenge from the teachers.

“Most years we’re in the 1,200 to 1,400-can range,” said Carmelita Locke, FES music teacher and student council co-sponsor. Locke thinks that the record-shattering total this year is directly attributable to the Character Counts program the Payson Unified School District has instituted in all its schools over the past two years.

The state program, which is based on six pillars of character (trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, caring, fairness and citizenship), is designed to permeate the entire educational process with character traits that create good citizens.

“We have the six pillars decorating the front of the school so they see it when they get to school, and then all the classrooms have very visible bulletin boards and things on their walls that address each of the pillars,” Gail Gorry, FES principal, said. “We start every day with an announcement that has to do with the Character Counts thought of the day, and then we reinforce it all day long.”

But it’s one thing to talk about character, and another to actually live by the traits the program emphasizes. Critics of Character Counts and similar programs that are being introduced in other states, say the proof is in the doing.

“The student council officers, President Mary Hagen, Vice President Chandler Sylvester, Secretary Ben Lee and Treasurer Keaton Duran, got together before school started and spent a day planning what they wanted to do,” Locke said.

“One of the things that kept coming up is that they wanted to be known as the council of character.”

Most schools in the district emphasize a different pillar of character each month. To go with the food drive, FES chose citizenship and caring for the months of November and December.

In a democratic society, a little competition can be a great motivator, and the FES food drive was bolstered by a lot of challenges between grades and other groups in the school.

“The teachers challenged the fifth grade to see if they could beat us, and whichever lost had to give homemade goodies to the other team,” Sylvester said. “We’re pretty sure that the teachers lost because we brought in more than 590 cans.”

Locke is not so sure.

“It’s actually neck and neck, so we’re calling it a tie,” the teacher said. “So right before Christmas we’re going to have a tremendous party in the PE dome and everybody is going to bring goodies.”

The original plan was for the class in each grade level that brought in the most cans to win a party, but because of the overwhelming effort by the entire school, Locke says the teachers in most grades have decided to throw a party for all their classes.

Meanwhile the 4,000 cans, carefully sorted by type of food and flavor (corn and green beans were overwhelmingly the most-donated items), are off to three area food banks.

But the FES student council isn’t stopping with cans in their quest to become known as the council of character.

“As fifth graders, we want to be mature, and we look at that not as being grown up, but giving things to other people like a grown-up would do,” Hagen said.

The council also features the “Pledge of Character” at each Friday’s school flag assembly, and they perform skits and songs to help emphasize the pillar of the month. The body is even using some of the money it has raised to bring in a musical group, Primary Focus, to perform at a special Character Counts assembly.

“This council is not as interested in spending the money it raises on parties,” Locke said. “They raised $140 at the school’s Fall Festival and they are buying Christmas decorations for the school with that money.”

The council also plans to have a Christmas store.

“But they’re not doing it so much to raise money as to have affordable things the children can buy for their families,” Locke said.

Hagen put it all in perspective.

“What the student council likes to do is help people with what they need,” she said.

And that’s pretty much what caring and citizenship are all about.

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