This is an interesting website to explore with your young adults. It shows how various characteristics of our population have changed over the past four decades. Take some time to sit down with your child and discuss the information. It would also be a fun time to tell your child(ren) about your own life before they were born. Have fun!
As we get ready for a new school year, our minds naturally turn to academics, homework, and all the learning that should take place to move from one grade to the next. Before we jump into the normal back-to-school routine, let’s spend some time thinking together about another equally important aspect of a quality education. If you look closely at the CRSD logo, you will see our mission statement, “Providing a quality education in a rural environment.” Even now as you read this Snippets, that’s what our employees are gearing up to do for the 2015-2016 school year. They are dedicated to the current and future success of our students. This includes, but is not limited to, academics. However, in order for academics to have meaning in a student’s life, it must be accompanied by character.
Before we explore the meaning of character, we should emphasize that last sentence – without character, academic study will have little impact. To visualize the impact of character, let’s imagine that all CRSD students are advanced in every subject area. Every student earns straight A’s, scores high on all achievement tests, and will leave high school fully prepared for college level assignments. Imagine with me that every kindergartner will learn to read without any difficulty. Long-division in fourth grade is a breeze for every student (no tears whatsoever). In junior high, all the students can write well enough to be published in a statewide newspaper. In our dreams, every one of our high school students achieve so highly, they will earn enough scholarships to pay for college. On the surface, this seems like a wonderful vision for our students. However, even if we could make all of the above come true, we would be leaving out what most every parent wants for their child. We would be neglecting something absolutely essential for success and contentment. We would be neglecting character. Without it, all the learning in the world is useless, or even worse, destructive. When we express a desire to provide a quality education, it must include discipline, because character is shaped through self-discipline.
Teachers work hard to develop and implement a great instructional program, yet they know that a student’s character makes all the difference in the learning process. Lesson plans for reading, writing and math are essential, but not enough. Character counts. It matters how we behave (for adults too). Achievement without character is empty and unsatisfying. Achievement through character is lasting, satisfying and full. Failure without character leads to bitterness. Failure with character leads to change. Character makes a difference in our suffering and in our success.
So, what is character? In a world that shuns absolutes, it can be challenging to establish clear principles of right and wrong. For the most part, in our community we are fortunate to have general agreement on the qualities of good character. On many occasions, I have heard our Elders speak forcefully about character and how it was a value in the Ahtna culture long before the mountains were called Drum and Sanford. I have seen community members demonstrate character. For example, when there is a financial need, you can bet someone is cooking spaghetti to raise money to help. Throughout our community, it is evident that the Copper Valley values honesty, hard work, generosity, personal responsibility, kindness, and forgiveness. Of course there are examples of bad character, but even then, an understanding of grace and mercy are demonstrated in our community when we resist casting the first stone.
Character matters, and because it matters, we must do our best to expect good character from our students. I will be directing our Principals to renew their efforts to integrate character education into our academic program. That will include holding students accountable, not just for their school work, but also for their behavior and attitudes. When I walk into a school, I want to see students learning well, and interacting well. I want Copper River School District students to have an edge in the market-place because of their manners. I want our students to be recognized for both their academic achievement and their politeness. I want our students to observe the truth that one reaps what they sow, especially when it comes to respect. Like most parents, I want our students to enjoy an abundant life built upon the benefits of right choices.
This is asking a lot of our Principals and teachers. Being a disciplinarian is hard work and under appreciated. Taking the time to turn a student’s bad choice into a positive lesson takes a lot of time, patience, and confidence. It can be disappointing when the lesson is resisted and motives are questioned. Principals who insist on teaching good character will take some abuse from adults whose own character is lacking. They will be hurt when somehow their efforts to discipline are more severely criticized than the behavior of the students who desperately need loving discipline. Our Principals will be challenged by people who want to excuse poor behavior because of another child’s choices. In seeking to raise the standard of behavior, they will be challenged at every turn, and yet, if character matters, then so does enduring the extra conflict. I will ask our Principals not to be harsh, but to be gracious, firm, and resolute.
In the end, learning character and learning academics are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I don’t think one happens without the other. If you learn, it is because you invested the effort. The effort is a reflection of one’s character. If you bomb a test, your character will make all the difference in your response. You’ll either go back and try harder, or move on, just to get through the course. You will either ignore an F or work with your teacher to bring your grade up. You will complete your homework, or cheat, based on your character. Those with good character will say “good morning” when they arrive in the classroom instead of sullenly walking past the teacher. Those who are mindful of their character will be respectful of different cultures. One with quality character will work hard to earn good grades rather than feel entitled to good grades.
For all of us, character matters when we use our math to give the correct change. Character matters when we write an email that includes information about another person. Character matters when we study history and apply its lessons to current political problems. Character matters when we study science and use new discoveries to ask questions of modern medicine. And especially for we Alaskans, character will matter in how we face our economic challenges, just as it mattered when we enjoyed rich harvests of revenue from higher oil prices.
In the coming school year, I hope you’ll support our students by expecting the best from them, not only in academics, but also in character. A student’s basic sense of right and wrong comes from the nurture and example they get from their family at home. Teachers can support families by demonstrating the values that produce good character. If you agree that character counts, please email your school Principal and let them know they have your support. Offer suggestions, volunteer to help teach character lessons, and most of all, be an example of good character for our students.
The truth is, the students in our schools already show qualities of good character. The Copper River School District is blessed with wonderful students. Come to a sporting event, visit a classroom and attend a concert and you’ll see for yourself how fortunate we are. Our focus on character this year is not a reaction to problematic behavior, it is our responsibility to each and every amazing CRSD student and his or her enormous potential.
“Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Learning to read can be one of the most challenging aspects of a child’s first school experiences. The path to reading proficiency is much easier when there are literacy supports at home. The beginning of the school year is a great time to establish literacy routines at home to extend the learning opportunities happening at school. Here’s some help from the Alaska Legislature and Alaska Department of Education & Early Development.
“Because learning to read is the foundation on which all future learning is built, the Alaska legislature and the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development have made development of early literacy a priority. This brochure contains information about early literacy, home activities that parents can use to help children become stronger readers, and where to find online resources. “
To every parent, grandparent, teacher, aide, secretary, custodian, bus driver, cook, pet and anyone else that greets a kid with a smile…thank you! I hope our students find the 2015-2016 school year full of greetings like the ones in this video. Happy First Day of School!
“Believe it or not, the Copper River School District in the tiny town of Glennallen won the 5th place for school districts in Alaska!”
Do you know that school starts next week on August 24th? Do you also happen to know that 1,996 years ago on August 24th Mt. Vesuvius erupted providing a spectacular pyrotechnic display for the City of Pompeii and Herculean? A devastating volcanic eruption may not be the most joyful thing to remember on the first day of school, but other than the British burning down the White House in 1814 and Mexican independence from Spain in 1821, I didn’t have a lot from history to pick from. Yes-yes, I know, thousands were buried under ash and suffocated from a blast of toxic gas, but some of that happened on the 25th. For now, let’s just focus on the historical and scientific fact that Vesuvius erupted.
Now, let me begin by saying what I’m not saying. I’m not saying this will be a proverbially explosive school year (been there, done that). I’m not predicting that we’ll be buried by the burning irritation of bureaucracy and mandated reporting (though this is very likely). My intent isn’t to compare the events of A.D. 79 with the 2015-2016 school year. Rather, it is to point out something much more important and lasting. Remembering the August 24th eruption of Pompeii in A.D. 79 is a good reminder that learning facts is the foundation upon which a school year should be constructed, particularly in elementary school.
Facts are interesting and fascinating. Even the most artistic movie producer would have a hard time topping the events of August 24th in Pompeii. An upscale town, lots happening in the social scene, and then just a short distance up north in the sky, a spectacular explosion. Some panicked and fled the city right away, others were intrigued and stayed to observe. Even some ships out at sea decided to anchor in port to get a closer look. Pliny the Younger fled and lived to write down an account of the terrible day. Pliny the Elder was out at sea and decided to come in and try to help. He ended up dead. (Which naturally makes me wonder if Pliny the Younger changed his name to Pliny the Only?) Information about the real world provides the food for thought-ing or “thinking” to be grammatically correct. Without facts, you can’t teach students to think. Facts help us to ask good questions about what we don’t know…like: Why do volcanoes erupt? Can we predict eruptions? What was life like in Pompeii before the eruption? And, of course, why didn’t Pliny the Younger change his name to Pliny the Only after the Elder passed away?
Students also need to learn facts about the world in order to learn how to read well. This year, hopefully, some of our students will learn about Pompeii. In learning about one event in history, they’ll gain all sorts of background knowledge for when they learn about other things. They’ll learn something about science as they study volcanoes and Roman history. They’ll learn about geography by finding Pompeii in the Mediterranean region. They’ll learn some anthropology and culture as they come to know some of those who lived through Vesuvius’ eruption. All of these facts will help them as they learn to read by increasing their vocabulary. Background knowledge is essential for reading comprehension. Students who learn about Pompeii will have an easier time learning and comprehending other text about volcanoes. And, if they ever bump into someone named Pliny, they’ll be able to say they’ve heard that name before.
Most importantly, by learning facts, students will have the raw materials necessary for learning to think. Knowledge is more than facts, it is processing. Students must learn to think critically and analytically (especially in today’s internet crazed world of rumor and open-source-expertise). We often hear a lot about the importance of teaching “critical thinking.” I’m often amazed, however, that this is presented as something that happens apart from facts. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Memorization is the hand-maid of learning.” Learning facts, and yes, even memorizing them is important. Without facts, what do we expect our students to think critically about?
I’m an unashamed fact fan. I like good old fashion facts because I like to see students think. Let’s encourage students to learn facts and explore the world so they can ponder their own ideas and solutions to the mysteries and wonders of it all.
What facts will your student learn about the world this year? Now is a great time to contact your child’s teacher and ask about the curriculum. Ask your child regularly what they learned in history and science. Ask students their opinions about what they’ve learned. I’m confident, you’ll enjoy listening to kids think…they can be uniquely insightful.
I wish you and your students a school year filled with facts useful for thinking.
Part of getting ready for school to start is finalizing the bus schedule. We have some students that endure very long bus rides to and from school each day. They do so with admirable patience and attitude. Here’s a link to pictures of students in other parts of the world who have even greater challenges getting to school. Wow!
Note: You have to click on “next” twice to get to the next picture. Clicking once gives you the caption, and then a second time moves to the next picture.