Loch Raven High, St. Pius X honored for character education

Loch Raven High School and St. Pius X School are among the 33 Maryland Schools that will receive the Maryland Center for Character Education at the 2010-2011 School of the Year awards ceremony, which recognizes schools for their efforts to produce not only good students, but also good people.

One of three Baltimore County Public Schools that will be honored at the Oct. 6 event, held at Stevenson University, Loch Raven is being recognized for implementing character education initiatives aimed at yielding results in student behavior, student climate and academic performance.

"It's really a recognition of our students," assistant principal Susan Ensor said. "Yes, we have these programs in place, but it's the students who take ownership of them and demonstrate the things we're trying to remind them of.

"We're celebrating the school, but the school really is the students," she said.

Programs instituted by a committee chaired by Ensor have guided Loch Raven in its character education process.

Every quarter, teachers nominate students for the schools' "Local Heroes" award, which recognizes students who faculty members feel deserves recognition for a kind act they witnessed around the school.

Students who are selected have their pictures displayed in the hallway, along with an account of the act for which they were nominated.

"Since the pictures are so prominently displayed, they'll stop and look in the hallway," Ensor said. "[Students] are aware of it, and many students make a conscious effort to be in the running. It's a self-motivating program."

The school's "heroes" are also recognized at the quarterly Breakfast of Champions, where the school also commends its Honor Roll students on their good work.

Loch Raven is also several years into an initiative that emphasizes "10 Loch Raven Rules of Considerate Conduct."

At a professional development meeting, teachers and staff members were lectured on Dr. P.M. Forni's book, "Choosing Civility: Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct."

Ensor said several staff members thought it would be a good idea to incorporate into their own school, and they distilled the 25 rules down to a list of 10, including simple but important edicts such as be inclusive, respect other people's space, apologize earnestly and be a leader. Those rules are displayed in classrooms throughout the school.

Administrators and guidance counselors make presentations to ninth-grade physical education classes each year to present the rules to the newest batch of students.

"We're constantly trying to get them to think about the proper way to act, and also recognize them for doing so," Ensor said.

For a school that has been honored for its academics on two different occasions this year, Ensor said that the character education award rounds out the school's mission.

In May, Loch Raven was in the top seven percent of national high schools in the Washington Post's High School Challenge, which ranks schools on academic rigor. A month later, Loch Raven High School was listed as one of Newsweek's 500 "Best American High Schools."

"It means that we're trying to raise kids who are smart and successful, but also kind and caring," Ensor said. "It makes it a good holistic recognition for the school."

Counting character at St. Pius X

Similarly, St. Pius X, located on York Road, has programs in place that instill the principles of character education in its students.

"It's certainly a wonderful honor for us to receive this award," Principal Maggie Dates said. "The character education program has been in place for a number of years, and has really become a part of who we are."

Vivian Morgan, a consultant for the school who runs the character education program, said each year, the school selects certain character traits — this year's traits are integrity, tolerance and perserverance — to emphasize throughout the year.

Students from each homeroom are nominated throughout the year for exemplifying those traits, with the students recognized at an assembly each trimester.

"We have an assembly, and the kids all come up to the front to have their picture taken," Morgan said. "They get a certificate and their name in the newsletter."

The other aspect of their character education program that makes St. Pius X stand out is displayed at that assembly. A group of seventh- and eighth-graders — called character coaches — put on skits to introduce the student body to the next trimester's trait.

Each year, in what becomes a competitive selection process, 20 to 25 students are selected for the character coach program, which sends the older students into kindergarten through fifth grade classrooms to do activities based on the character traits.

Through a collaborative effort with Morgan, character coaches tailor activities for each grade, with the goal of setting a positive example in the younger student's classrooms.

"The students really set the tone for character education at St. Pius," Dates said.

"We have like 60 kids sign up to do it," Morgan said. "It's pretty great having the kids want to be a character coach. That's the most exciting part, to see kids want to be recognized and be leaders in that sense."

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