Rim Country Middle School’s new character education program has spurred a 22 percent drop in recorded instances of bad behavior from the first quarter last year to the same quarter this year — down to 273 infractions across 13 categories.
Classroom disruption remains the school’s top problem, with 155 infractions this year.
The number, however, fell from 179 instances during the first quarter last year, and from a high of 327 instances during the first quarter of the 2007-08 school year.
Defiance, which has ranged from a six-year high of 87 infractions in 2007-08 to a low of 29 during last year’s first quarter, fell this quarter to four. Even students’ school bus behavior has improved, with just five students receiving bus notices this quarter, down from 30 during the same period last year.
The four defiance infractions don’t include 41 additional violations recorded when students skipped the new Mandatory After School Help (MASH) program this quarter. The school separated MASH defiance infractions from others in the same category because the program is new and including the figures would not allow for a direct comparison.
The education program, Character Counts, involves weekly classrooms lessons about the six pillars of character — trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.
The school has incorporated the Character Counts curriculum into its schedule with the lessons and other activities. For instance, during a recent school assembly during National Character Counts Week, students listened to funny man and pantomime Cary Trivanovich talk about good behavior.
And, with an anonymous $1,000 donation that came in over the summer, the school has purchased pencils, stickers and temporary tattoos with slogans like “I am trustworthy. I am a good citizen. I am caring.” Students can earn the goodies as prizes for good deeds.
Character Counts, combined with a classroom punishment program called Taking Responsibility Classroom (TRC), has improved the behavior of middle school students, said Assistant Principal Yvette Harpe.
With TRC, rule-breaking students sit in a room until they draft personal responsibility plans outlining how they will atone for their transgressions. The school has run the program for two years.
“My world is discipline,” said Harpe. “I’m in charge of dealing with almost all of the discipline.” She collects data by category, quarter and location, and then analyzes it for trends, hoping to see the number of infractions tick downward.
However, for the last roughly five years, the numbers have stayed constant.
“I kept saying, ‘Guys, what we’re doing — it’s not working,” said Harpe. The school used to participate in Character Counts, but stopped in 2005 to try another initiative that included bolstering school pride. For instance, the middle school proclaimed “Maverick Pride,” referring to its mascot.
However, Harpe said the program didn’t teach kids why they wanted to show respect, or what respect even looked like.
“We found it wasn’t as effective as it could be,” said Harpe. This year marks the first since 2005 when the school has used the Character Counts curriculum.
Last year, the middle school surveyed its students on the frequency of bullying and stealing, and if students respected their teachers.
Bullying has received heightened attention nationwide after several students have killed themselves in the wake of harassment. RCMS, however, reported two instances of bullying the first quarter this year, down from 11 the same period last year.
Harpe said first quarter numbers traditionally remain lower than subsequent quarters. As the year continues, a kid’s emotional resistance to bullying wears, making him more likely to report the abuse. The Character Counts program addresses the problem.
Harpe said the survey found many kids didn’t respect their teachers. “It was kind of sad,” she said. For instance, 88 percent of sixth-grade girls felt that “We knew that was one of the things we had to work on.”
Harpe hopes that through continued use of the curriculum, students’ behavior will continue to improve, and their respect levels will continue to increase.