Honor Society Adds Character To Grades

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It used to be kind of a laid-back club for students with a high grade point average, but the National Honor Society has changed at Payson High School.

Thanks in part to the Character Counts program, NHS members are now engaged in monthly service projects.

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National Honor Society president Sarah Christensen (left) works with member Skylar DeWeese and vice president Kelly Sjonborg preparing "care packages" for the Time Out Shelter. This year, the National Honor Society has made a strong commitment to community service.

"This year, we're trying to be a little more visible in terms of service to the community and a little more committed maybe than we've been in the past," NHS sponsor Kate Moore said.

The organization's current project ties in with National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

"Now, we are collecting emergency supplies for the Time Out Shelter," NHS President Sarah Christensen said. "We have a big pile of stuff (members) bought and brought in -- emergency things like toothpaste, toothbrushes, washcloths, general cosmetic items. We started out putting them in bags that Bashas' gave us. We have couple dozen of those, but we had boxes left over to also give them."

Other NHS projects planned for the current school year include spending time at the community's nursing homes and tutoring of fellow high school students in subject areas where they need extra help.

"We're changing it a lot," NHS Vice President Kelly Sjonborg said. "It's a lot harder. It's not just a club where you can come and not put any work into it. That's what it used to be."

NHS membership is open to juniors and seniors with at least a 3.25 grade point average, and who demonstrate high character.

"To be in the National Honor Society, you have to pretty much have all the character traits," Christensen said. "It's in our by-laws that you have to be a person of character to be in NHS."

Six pillars of character

Character Counts is a statewide program based on similar programs throughout the nation. It is based on six core values -- trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship -- which are referred to as the "Six Pillars of Character."

The goal is to teach and model core values that are acceptable to liberals and conservatives as well as to secular and faith-based communities. To that end, the pillars are immersed into every aspect of the school program, including both curricular and non-curricular activities.

"It works across all six of our schools and also the Pine-Strawberry school," Frontier Elementary School Principal Gail Gorry said. "Everybody uses the same language."

Both discipline and reward programs are now built on the six pillars, Gorry said.

"We talk about which pillar of character can you work on better," she said. "Where does it fit? Instead of, ‘This person hit me,' they say, ‘It was because I called them a name and I wasn't caring and they weren't being respectful' -- that kind of thing.

"And it's also within our rewards structure," she said. "When we hand out Wonderful Wolf certificates, we talk about which pillar of character is involved."

Even the athletic program is on board.

"We have a ‘Victory With Honor' sports program that all PHS coaches use," Gorry said. "Since we started using it, unsportsmanlike conduct is almost non-existent."

Similar results are being reported statewide. A press release from the Arizona Character Education Foundation highlights the results of a recent survey of the 524 schools that participate in the program statewide. It revealed that:

  • 51 percent experienced a decrease in disciplinary referrals.
  • 78 percent experienced an improvement in school climate.
  • 22 percent experienced a decrease in absenteeism.
  • 70 percent experienced an increase in level of respect.
  • 43 percent experienced an increase in commitment to school.
  • 92 percent experienced an improved level of self-discipline.

A key component of the program is community-wide involvement and support, according to Character Counts Committee Chairperson Jen Baker, a teacher at FES. To that end, the Character Counts Committee and the PUSD Beautification Committee are teaming up to stage a community event on Saturday, April 3.

"On that morning at every single school, students, parents and members of the community will meet at a designated area to work on a long-term maintainable beautification project," Baker said. "Then the day will culminate with a free community picnic so we can all come together."

Character Counts was introduced into PUSD three years ago, and a three-year grant that has thus far funded the program is expiring this year. While other sources of funding are being pursued, community support is more important than ever, Baker said.

"We can use any kind of support," she said. "Money would be wonderful from clubs and organizations for training and materials. We especially could use anybody with access to printing services, and we can use gift certificates from businesses that we can give as prizes."

Baker will provide Character Counts training and orientation programs free of charge to any group or organization. She can be reached at (928) 472-9309.

PHS National Honor Society Membership 2003

Kyle Asmundson, Lauren Bartoli, Michael Bellah, Jami Blalock, Karis Blalock, Thomas Borkowski, Casey Christensen, Sarah Christensen, Tyler Clawson, Jessica Coleman, Steven Cotton, Lisa Cuen, Christina Culligan, Adriana Curtis, Tyler Danielson, Skylar DeWeese, Bryan Dirren, Jacob Durnin, Amy Eldridge, Andrew Ford, Willa Frazer, Danielle Goebel, Hilari Hardt, Shea Hatch, Danielle Haynes, Whitney Heizer, Stephanie Hilliard, John Howard, Billy Hoyt, Kyle Hubbard, Tina Jackson, Ruth Jesus, Jileen Jones, Katharina Krison, Kristal LaHaye, Paul Larby, Cindy Mallon, Doni Mioto, Erik Monty, Kyle Pugel, Rikki Ray, Daniel Reisdorf, Brent Riepel, Crystal Riley, Scarlet Rosholm, Anna Runion, Brennan Shiya, Mikel Shiya, Samantha Sievert, Kelly Sjonborg, Crystal Sprinkle, Mike Stewart, Sarah Toler, Sasha Vaught, Alex Vlahopoulos, Krystle Wagner, Alysha Werner, and Bailey Wholly.

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