At Hannibal’s Dennis M. Kenney Middle School, student achievement has soared this school year while disciplinary referrals have plummeted, creating a cause for celebration among faculty and pupils alike.
During a recent school board meeting, DMK Principal Dee Froio, DMK counselor Meg Jaworski and school psychologist Meredith Furlong discussed the reinvigorated Character Education Program.
The program has gained traction since the beginning of the school year, when members of the building leadership team first got together to discuss their goals for the year.
That team has evolved into a separate subcommittee and developed various initiatives to help boost student achievement while also addressing student disciplinary issues.
“We are looking to infuse character education within the culture and climate of the school,” Froio said.
The principal noted that the eight-person character education subcommittee meets monthly to decide on a particular trait that they want to see reinforced in the school community.
However, rather than simply expecting students to know what respect is, there is an educational process that teaches students exactly what respect looks like.
“The focus of the committee is to take those traits and make them a focus every month so students can see these things in action, being practiced. “We have different activities for each trait that really helps reinforce everything,” the principal said.
Morning announcements typically incorporate a word of the day that correlates with that month’s character trait, which also helps emphasize the trait. Respect, citizenship, kindness, caring and other qualities have been the focus of the initiative so far this school year, with announcements, incentives and activities held in conjunction with each.
Activities include a free breakfast pizza event, an ice cream social, prize drawings and other celebratory happenings.
“We are trying to couple each character trait with academics and expectations and help our kids grow into (well-rounded) individuals,” Furlong said.
So far, mission accomplished.
Teachers, counselors and faculty members have reported a noticeable change among the students.
According to Jaworski, students are going out of their way to exhibit the character trait of the month.
In addition to positive feedback from staff members, disciplinary data also confirms the strides students have taken to exhibit good behavior.
“We’re holding the students accountable and we’re also asking the staff to enforce those expectations,” Froio said. “If you compare the total referrals from September to December last year, we had 529 for that period; this year we’re at 435. We are trending in the right direction.”
With the district placing an emphasis on character education, Froio said she expects that trend to continue into the next marking period, the next school year and beyond.
Judging by the 20 percent increase in students who earned recognition during a recent character education breakfast, the principal’s vision is becoming a reality.