Character counts in charter school

Students, teams earn points as part of education program

Posted 3/6/15

Social studies teacher Matt Parish stands in front of a whiteboard with the outline of Russia projected on his face. He points to the boot-shaped county on a multicolored map of Europe identical to the one the students had just finished studying on …

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Character counts in charter school

Students, teams earn points as part of education program

Posted

Social studies teacher Matt Parish stands in front of a whiteboard with the outline of Russia projected on his face. He points to the boot-shaped county on a multicolored map of Europe identical to the one the students had just finished studying on their iPads. Hands shoot into the air.

“Aww, that's an easy one,” one of his sixth-graders says as Parish writes “Italy” through the top of the boot with a dry erase marker before moving on to the funny-shaped country squeezed between France and Germany.

“Belgium,” says one of the girls from a middle row, following a brief hesitation from the class.

What looks like an ordinary lesson in geography is also part of a program launched this year at Legacy Academy Charter School in Elizabeth, designed to encourage and develop students' character.

In the schoolwide program, students receive grades just like other schools — but in addition to their letter grades, students at Legacy are also rewarded for their initiative as well as for demonstrating the values learned in the school's Character Education program.

“Last year the board had expressed an interest in having some character education for the kids here at Legacy, so we put a team together to make that happen.” Parish explains. “The goal is to promote positive behavior and to recognize when students are doing a really good job.”

In addition to their regular schoolwork, the students at the school in Elizabeth have studied values such as courage, honesty, respect, responsibility and humility.

“We have a different value every month,” Parish said. “March is perseverance. If an elementary teacher sees one of their students demonstrating a good example of perseverance, they reward the student with a green ticket, and they can earn all sorts of prizes for demonstrating that behavior.”

Each green ticket is worth one point and is earned by exhibiting the values in personal behavior or demonstrating excellence in schoolwork. On any given day, a teacher might award anywhere between one to five tickets per class period.

Legacy has adopted two variations of the program, one for students in grade school (K-5), the other tailored for the middle school (grades 6-8).

At the beginning of the year, the middle school students were assigned to teams, and an individual's accomplishment earns points for his or her team. Parish likens the teams to the houses at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books, but instead of names such as Gryffindor or Slytherin, Legacy's teams are named for universities.

“Each teacher has a team of about 10 kids consisting of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. When the students in middle school earn a ticket, they get a point for their team. We also have team contests throughout the year.”

In addition to green tickets, middle-school students can also receive red tickets or penalty tickets, which hurt their teams by deducting points from teams' totals.

“So if a student is not showing perseverance or not showing respect, he can get a penalty ticket that goes against the team,” Parish said. “We are starting to see the middle schoolers show more positive behavior because they are not worried about letting themselves down, they're not worried about letting their parents down, they're not worried about letting their teachers down, they're worried about letting their team down.”

The introduction of the red ticket is designed to expose and prepare students for what they will encounter in a work environment, where they will likely interact with a co-worker who may not be performing well.

“You don't necessarily want to call them out, throw them under the bus,” Parish said. “You want to try to help them. You want to try to interact with them positively so they improve.”

On the last Friday of each month, the middle school holds an assembly to recognize the month's winners and introduce the next Character Ed value for the following month. Assemblies may also include team challenges such as knowledge bowls, where the students have to work together to answer questions.

The team earning the most points at the end of each month is rewarded with something along the lines of a pizza or ice cream party, and at the end of the school year, the team with the most points will earn a field trip to an amusement park or game center such as Elitch Gardens or Boondocks.

So far, the response to the program has been positive from both the school board and parents, prompting Legacy to continue the program for at least another year.

Back in his social studies class, Parish observes his group of around 25 sixth-graders closely as they tap out in-class assignments on their iPads or write them out with pencil and paper. In his hands, he holds the six green tickets he has promised to the row working the hardest. At the end of the lesson, Parish will have a difficult decision to make.

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