October 9, 2010 in Washington Voices

Valley program aims to instill good character traits in youth

PACE tries to educate students about ethical behavior
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Last month, a student at University High School lost a wallet containing around $120. There was no identification inside, and for anyone who found the wallet, it may have been tempting to take it home.

But three juniors – Taylor Mullenix, Jacob Hills and Alex Polsin – found it in the school commons. Mullenix looked down and pointed it out to his friends.

“He originally thought it was my wallet,” Hills said.

The three opened it up and saw the money and the thought may have occurred to them to split it and take it home. But they turned it into the office instead.

“We actually thought about it,” Polsin said. “But it was the right thing to do. My parents raised me right.”

“If somebody found my wallet with $120 in it, I’d want them to turn it in,” Mullenix agreed.

The three turned the wallet into the school office and it was returned to its owner. Since then, the three young men have been recognized by the school during the homecoming assembly and by the school board, who presented them with certificates for doing the right thing.

Central Valley School District officials hope this is the kind of decision students will make as a result of the character education program the district along with East Valley, West Valley and Freeman school districts, local businesses and churches have unveiled this fall: Partners Advancing Character Education, or PACE.

Reader boards around Spokane Valley began spreading the word last month – “Trait of the Month: Respect.”

They serve as a reminder to students throughout the Valley about the character trait of the month. September kicked off with respect and October’s trait is responsibility. The hope is that parents and their students will see the signs and talk about what those traits mean and how they can apply them to everyday life.

There are posters at local businesses and churches and teachers are discussing the character trait and how to implement that trait into their everyday lives.

Ben Small, superintendent of the Central Valley School District, said the idea for PACE is based on a similar program in Yakima. The district heard about it liked the idea, but wanted to make the program fit for the community here.

“(We asked ourselves) how do you make this a Spokane Valley initiative and not a remake of something else?” Small said.

Small said a small group of business people, school district officials, faith-based groups and others started meeting to discuss a character education program that would go beyond the classroom.

They decided what character traits they would highlight each month. Finding that list of traits wasn’t hard. West Valley School District has been doing a similar program since the late 1990s. Sue Shields, West Valley spokesperson, said that the district’s involvement in PACE has rejuvenated its own program.

She said character counts for not only students, but adults, parents and business people of the community. “We need to model good behavior,” Shields said. “We all do.”

In the East Valley School District, the elementary schools and middle schools are embracing PACE.

At Mountain View Middle School the Associated Student Body is having an essay contest each month to describe the idea of each trait. Stephanie Watson, East Valley High School dean of students, said students have an assembly monthly for the winners of the contest to read their essays and to prepare them for the next trait.

The elementary schools are honoring students displaying the monthly trait and the students of the month get to have lunch with the principals.

Watson said that character education may seem obvious to some, but for many students they are expected to model good behavior and may not have a role model for those traits at home for one reason or another.

“You can’t have an expectation of behavior if you’re not modeling it or defining it first,” she said.

She added that the district has been working toward rewarding good behavior rather than focusing on the small population of students that display bad behavior for the last few years.

“It (PACE) fit in very well,” she said.

Brandon Comella, youth director at Millwood Community Presbyterian Church, said he likes the idea of the whole community using a uniform list of character traits to highlight. The church has put up the banners and posters and is discussing the traits with its youth.

Comella said that trustworthiness is the most important trait on the list. He said at the church, he sees many kids who come from homes and are in need of someone to look up to and model good behavior.

“Hopefully they will grow into that character,” he said.

At KiDDS Dental in Liberty Lake, administrator Brandie Evans said the office is gearing up for many opportunities to discuss character while doing business with the children of the community.

She has plans to reward staff members for displaying a certain trait with a button that says, “I was caught being responsible,” or another trait to start conversations with the patients. The posters and banners are up in the office for all of the patients to see.

The office saw just under 600 patients in September, so the message of character education is reaching many in the community.

“I think the more people that know about this the more effective it will be,” Evans said. She said that the office not only cares about the oral health of its patients but cares about the kids’ moral character.

Back at U-Hi, the lesson of respecting someone else’s property came back around to Jacob Hills after he and his friends turned in that wallet.

“They found my wallet like a week after,” Hills said. A couple of football players, Cameron Desonia and Colin Young, both seniors, found it in the commons and turned it in to the office. Although the wallet only had about $8 inside, it also contained Hills’ driver’s license and some gift cards.

“You put yourself in their shoes,” Desonia said.

Young agreed and said it wasn’t too hard to do the right thing.

“I know what it’s like to have something stolen,” Young said.


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