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In Dayton Schools, New Program Shows Strong Results in Student Behavior & Achievement

A program at Lincoln Elementary in Dayton is now in its third year of providing parents and teachers the tools for building students' character and enhancing school spirit, climate, and culture.
Core Life helps parents and teachers instill in children the characteristics of a good person.
While parents are the first role model for children, they tend to grow up believing that most people are nice and behave according to social rules. However, as soon as they enter the school environment, they can sometimes encounter not-so-nice character traits. 
The fifteen character traits of the Core Life program are worked on as soon as the child enters school. The traits are: respect, responsibility, rules, goals, volunteering, empathy, gratitude, tolerance, healthy living, moderation, honesty, wisdom, optimism, perseverance and courtesy.
"I developed a program concept  based on experience and training," said Bonnie Hedrick, Director of Childhood and Adolescent Mental Health Promotion for Mental Health America. "It really was (Dayton Superintendent) Jay (Brewer) and the teachers who fully developed the content."
Hedrick was directed to Dayton Superintendent Jay Brewer to help her get her program concept up and running. She said Brewer was willing to assist and give her ideas consistent with research.
"(Hedrick) and I teamed up to help grow stronger kids," said Brewer. "So, we were building it as we were flying it!"
The program was first introduced to third grade students in the spring of 2015, although preparatory work was done during the previous fall. A parents dinner was held in January to let parents know what the district would be teaching, and how the school district wanted the parents to support the program at home. That spring, thirteen of the fifteen core values were introduced, one a week for 13 weeks. The teachers introduced a topic on Monday and would spend about 30 minutes on it. Through the rest of the week the teachers would conduct 15-minute activities on the topic. Even though the topic could be taught by either a guidance counselor or a teacher in the school, the teachers wanted to integrate the topic into all of the subject matter of the classes taught throughout the day. Counselors helped track behavior and other elements requested by the evaluator.
The main goal of the evaluation was to assess the feasibility of the program, and to further develop Core Life content. The secondary goal was to test the hypotheses of improvement in behavioral and academic performance.
Results were very optimistic.
Maladaptive behaviors, or children who had behavioral issues, improved, reducing the bad behavior incidents from 19 children in the fall semester to 9 children in the spring semester. In addition, in the spring semester, Common Core Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) scores showed that reading scores improved 10 points, or 5 percent.  Math scores went up 13.6 points,  or 7.12 percent. Of the subgroup of the children with behavioral issues, the reading scores went up 11 points or 6 percent, and the math scores improved 14.5 points, or 7.60 percent.
Interviews with parents indicate that children mostly struggled with the concept of empathy, and listening. Respect was often a challenge, too, and some of the vocabulary words used in the program were difficult as well.
Overall, though, parents thought the program was good and wanted it to continue.
"I believe we are helping them understand how thought and emotions influence behavior," said Hedrick. "This is also how we can reduce stress."
Naomi Colliver, the counselor at Lincoln Elementary, taught the program during its first year. 
"We were able to see a reduction in disciplinary problems, and there was a correlation to reading scores," she said.
The second year, the course was offered in third and fourth grades, and this year Lincoln is teaching the course in grades Kindergarten through 6th.
"The teachers caught fire with this program," said Colliver. "They liked the positive culture where they are expecting good behavior. Before there was no common language; all the grades were teaching the same thing but not the same way. Now, all the grades are unified in their teaching of these core values, and every year the children will have it reinforced, so the values should take root."
The program is being tried as a pilot program in two Boone County schools now. Brewer, Hedrick, and Colliver took the numbers from their program to Frankfort to show Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Hiram Polk, whose mission is to create more early childhood programs in Kentucky.  
"The Core Life program here at Lincoln Elementary has provided our students with lifelong lessons that foster the importance of positive character traits which will facilitate success in their futures as students and productive citizens," said principal Heather Dragan and Colliver in a statement.
Dragan said that the school has put posters up all around the school which are colorful and reinforce the message of the week.
"We are also having a student do the morning announcement based on the trait of the week," she explained. "For example, in the sixth week we worked on respect, and we have lessons around that trait."
Children wear brightly colored stickers that say, ask me about respect, or honesty, or whatever the trait is that they are working on.
"We can see that the lessons are providing new coping skills that children need to help with stress," said Colliver. "They are helping the students make good decisions. The goals for this program are to see a child out at a store and notice that they are using the knowledge they have now, such as basic niceness. This will help their people skills and give them the skills and confidence they need to be a success. And if they have good coping skills, that will help them to resist negative pressure when it comes to the temptations to try drugs, or drinking. That is what we are hoping for."
Dragan said since the lessons are school-wide, the atmosphere is comfortable for the children to practice the good behavior and traits without feeling that they are the only ones practicing. Since all the teachers, the counselor, the principal, and school board are involved, everyone is on the same page with the same goal and the students know that.
"I want every opportunity to turn out good kids with strong character," said Superintendent Brewer. "I am so glad we had the opportunity to help with this program. Kids being strong and healthy in every way aligns perfectly with our Mission, to Inspire, Engage and Grow."
Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor
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