Respect, responsibility, helping others, fairness and honesty are traits that define good character. Many schools teach character, but Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Bollman Bridge Elementary are two in Howard County with programs that stand out - earning them the distinction of being named Maryland Character Education Schools of the Year.
Twenty-one public schools, one private school and one Catholic school statewide were selected by the Maryland Center for Character Education for the 2000-2001 school year and honored at an awards banquet last week. A nonprofit composed of representatives from education, government and community institutions, the center works cooperatively with the Character Education office of the Maryland State Department of Education.
At Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) School in Ellicott City, character and Christian values are part of the culture. "Character education is not a program taught at OLPH School, but a way of life that begins in the homes of our children and flows through our parish and school" Principal Barbara Coakley said.
OLPH was selected for its numerous outreach activities performed by pupils. Several collections of food were conducted for the parish food pantry and two Baltimore soup kitchens. Pupils participated in the Thanksgiving Parish program for poor families, donated clothes and toiletries to Sarah's House women's shelter at Fort Meade and donated money to Catholic Relief Services.
"The teachers don't make us do it," said Jesse Gates, 13, referring to outreach efforts.
Instructors provide ideas and let the children decide whether to participate, Jesse added, and they always come through. Weekly Masses and religious studies that are connected to academic subjects serve as regular reminders of the needs of others.
Last year, the parish pastor had a heart attack, prompting OLPH schoolchildren to collect and donate money in his name to the American Heart Association. Eighth-graders got together and donated two-thirds of their class trip money, which they raised, to a family that had lost its home in a fire. They didn't know the family; pupils saw the story in the news.
Maureen Maselko, an eighth-grader and Student Council president who attended last week's awards banquet, summed up part of the school's philosophy. "We have so much, sometimes we take it for granted and we should share it," she said.
Classmate Korey Haynes agreed. "It's kinda something [sharing with others] that needs to be done," she said.
Bollman Bridge Elementary's "Kids With Character" is a systematic approach providing deliberate classroom instruction emphasizing character traits. Principal Pamela Butler said the program at the Jessup school is a staff-driven, collaborative effort.
Beverly J. Brooks a first-grade teacher and chairwoman of the Behavioral Expectations Committee, believes character education will enhance academic achievement and teach life skills.
"Character education is the foundation of everything that you do in the classroom. If you have [a pupil] who is caring and respectful, you can teach them the world," she said.
The program was implemented in January with staff instruction and activities focusing on a monthly trait, beginning with respect. Caring, citizenship, honesty, fairness and responsibility followed each month. Expanded lessons, parent input and stories of school staff members and how they exhibit character are being added this year.
As a reward for practicing good character, pupils "caught" displaying the monthly trait (for this month, it's responsibility) have their names added to character posters in classrooms, the cafeteria or gym. Those who exhibit the trait in a significant way get an "I'm a kid with character" ticket, which is placed in a basket for each grade.
Each Friday, the tickets are drawn from the baskets and the names read on the morning announcements. The more tickets a pupil receives, the better his or her chances are for being selected.
A visit from the Character Cop is an honor reserved for those consistently showing character or for those who need extra encouragement. The Character Cop, who wears a western-style deputy's outfit, visits the pupil presenting ribbons and stickers as rewards.
The public recognition of hearing their names on the announcements is another treat for the children.
"I think it's fun because if you're doing a good job, you're recognized," said Bollman Bridge fifth-grader Brittany Diehl.