Among 39 schools across Maryland, Perry Hall Elementary and Perry Hall Middle were recently honored for helping students become better people, not just better scholars.
The 2011-2012 School of the Year Awards from the Maryland Center for Character Education at Stevenson University recognized schools for "implementing outstanding character education initiatives yielding positive results in student behavior, school climate, and academic performance," Baltimore County Public Schools announced.
The center encourages schools to include moral and ethical behavior in their curriculums—which has become part of everyday practices at the elementary and middle school.
"If you don't live it and talk it and believe it, you're not going to change anything," Perry Hall Elementary principal Donna Bergin said. "We have a lot of new students this year, and we're trying to help them become part of our culture."
The school has begun using planners that emphasize the Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success. Students who most effectively use their planners are placed in drawings for prizes.
"Each month, we focus on different characters to help you to become a really good person. We talk about them every morning," she said.
Bergin said the school has also taken advantage of the winning Orioles season. Students took second place in the "Go Orange" Challenge and will receive free tickets to a game next season. But students are also learning to imitate the players' work ethic through better attendance and attentiveness.
The results are already apparent, she said: "We seem to have had fewer office referrals."
At Perry Hall Middle, the main focus of character education is raising visibility and creating a safe environment, according to guidance chair Ron Lebowitz.
A major anti-bullying initiative that started last year, including posters and brochures, has helped students become more comfortable visiting the guidance office to talk about students who bully or are bullied.
"We provide an atmosphere where that's OK, not that they're ratting on their friends," Lebowitz said. "It opened up the door to make it safe for them to speak to a counselor about making this a nicer place."
Students role play problem scenarios on the morning announcements. Also, unique to Perry Hall Middle, some students travel from class to class on a weekly basis teaching about principles like respect and honesty.
The character development programs are about giving back to the larger community, as well, according to Lebowitz, through food drives and cancer research fundraisers.
"We have a community that binds together to think about others. Their practices have a large impact on the greater good," he said. "This is embedded in the school and kids come to expect it in the building."
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