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A good school provides more than just teachings about reading, writing and arithmetic.
At Unity East Elementary near Philo, developing “the entire child” is a significant part of the school’s mission.
“We have a big emphasis on character education,” principal Jim Carver said. “It’s part of our mission statement — preparing our kids to be productive, successful members of society.”
It was initiated about eight years ago as a way to address what was “a perceived need,” Carver said.
The program has characteristics of other well-known approaches, such as Character Counts, that many other schools utilize. However, Unity East has created its unique tack through a heavy amount of teacher involvement, led by the school’s character education committee.
“It’s a grassroots thing,” Carver said. “It’s not a program that we’ve adopted; it’s one that has evolved over the years.”
One aspect of the program involves student videos. The children describe what it means to be responsible, for example.
“We videotape them and use that as examples for videos we push out to all the classrooms when we start new character traits,” said Carver, in his third year as principal after serving as a fourth-grade teacher for five years at the school.
Some other traits include caring, citizenship, fairness, respect and trustworthiness.
Skits and all-school assembles have been integrated. Carver even goes so far as to don a mascot costume – Captain Character.
The staff’s commitment to the program is one area that reflects the close-knit community within the school.
“We’ve had a great staff and great administration for as long as the school has been around,” Carver said. “(The staff has said) we just have a warm, caring community, and I would second that. When times are tough everyone comes together, and on a day-to-day (basis) we have a really supportive group of teachers who all work together. We do get that comment from visitors, too. And our secretaries are a part of that; they are very warm and friendly.”
So it isn’t surprising to note that Unity East had no teacher turnover this year.
“I think it’s a part of what contributes to being a supportive, close community,” Carver said. “I think people who teach here view it as a very positive place to teach. They want to be a part of it for as long as they can.”
The 305-student school (pre-K through fifth grade) has had steady enrollment recently but that could be changing, as a new subdivision in Unity East’s section of the district is expected to come on line soon.
“So we’re expecting to see some growth,” Carver said.