Character Education Awards Announced

Wisconsin Character Education Partnership logo.

The Wisconsin Character Education Partnership (WCEP) and the UWM School of Education announced the four elementary schools and one middle school that have won the Promising Practice award this year for their thoughtful, innovative approaches to character education.

One elementary school earned the State School of Character designation (SSOC), determined by the Wisconsin Character Education partnership. This school also received the National School of Character award determined by character.org.

WCEP promotes the intentional, initiative-taking efforts of educators to instill in all Wisconsin students, core universal ethical values such as integrity, honesty, fairness, responsibility, and respect for themselves and for others through character education.

The WCEP and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Education sponsor the State Schools of Character (SSOC) award program. This program, in partnership with Character.org recognizes schools for their exemplary character education programs.

Wisconsin is one of 30 states participating in the SSOC program. SSOC winners become eligible for the National Schools of Character (NSOC) recognition.

Character Education aspires to create a kinder learning environment which incorporates students, faculty, staff, and families of students, according to WCEP.  This allows everyone to enjoy the learning process and students also have models for their coming adult lives.

A key element of Character Education in general and Promising Practices is that core universal values are incorporated in all parts of the school. Character is not taught as a course. Studies and follow-up reports are available which show how much performance improves in Character schools whether they are private, public, urban or rural. Promising Practices winners’ results are shared so others can adopt them. For more information, visit wicharacter.org/.

The Awardees this year are:

Rocky Branch Elementary (River Falls School District) “Monthly Character Education Groups”

This Promising Practice demonstrates shared moral leadership, inclusiveness in buddy groups and student voice with older students to create content to share.

A focus on a caring community following pandemic disruptions was the impetus behind this practice of monthly buddy groups. Staff placed a priority on school culture and relationship building using monthly cross-grade level buddy groups. Students and teaching staff participated, providing an opportunity for students to get to know one another. They used this innovative approach to expand shared moral leadership and student voice. Groups were enhanced by fifth-grade students collaborating to create monthly videos to introduce the character trait. Survey data shows 95% of students like the buddy groups and 90% said they learned about the character traits.

Meyer Middle School (River Falls School District) “Connect: A Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Course.” This Promising Practice is research-based, connecting social emotional learning to character development including participation by all students. Progress data is demonstrated. A strong belief that social emotional learning and character education are connected led to the development of this best practice. Using Meyer’s character education program as a foundation, the staff wanted to increase SEL student skills as key to student success and promote overall well-being. School climate would also be enhanced.

Using research-based approaches, every student takes the 7.5-week class each year with content/skills at each grade level. Student survey data is collected determining effectiveness and learning growth. Students are also asked to reflect on the impact their moral and performance character have had on them and their school, family, and community.

Edgewood Elementary School (Greenfield School District) “Morning Announcements: A Fresh Look”

This Promising Practice demonstrates strong student engagement as well as creativity with strong character education focus and fosters student intrinsic motivation. Pandemic school closures created a challenge for all schools to keep the school community connected.

Edgewood’s approach provided a common school announcement through the YouTube medium. Once back in school, both logistics and preferences made the school continue Morning Announcements through this media platform.

An added enhancement has been to allow for greater school participation and more connection to character education. Students contribute by writing scripts, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, or making commercials for character-based problems they see in school and how to resolve them.

The weekly schedule of topics such as Motivational Monday, Thankful Thursday and “Apaws” (a character shout out to students and staff caught showing a character trait). This creates a routine that school staff reports have had a substantial positive impact on school culture and reinforces character traits.

Westside Elementary School (River Falls School District) “Westside Elementary Character Council”

This Promising Practice is a Council that is inclusive, promotes character and demonstrates character daily in the community. Westside Elementary shifted its student council to an inclusive council focused on character and service learning. All students at grades 4 and 5 can participate. The goal is to embrace and live out the school’s character traits in service to others to make their school and community a better place. To be an inclusive and equitable group, the school devoted time during midday leading to a 50% increase in participation.

Students are now the voice for character growth, selecting projects and sharing with the entire classroom. The character focused council’s essential mission is helping students reflect on the connection between the service projects and their intrinsic understanding of character. Every two months the students are asked to reflect on the own participation in the service project, including how it relates to character traits, what they learned and how it benefits others.

Greenwood Elementary School (River Falls School District)

Greenwood Elementary School has been named a 2022 Wisconsin School of Character. In 2017 Greenwood achieved this status and was also recognized as a National School of Character.

This designation remains for five years and then schools are asked to recertify. Greenwood Elementary School went through this recertification process which required them to show their character program is thriving, that they used previous feedback to grow their character education program and were also able to show evidence they performed outreach to other schools to share their expertise in character education.

Everyone in the school understands the eight important traits their school stands for. They are Courage, Cooperation, Respect, Citizenship, Responsibility, Compassion, Positive Attitude and Honesty. Students participate in events to thank fire and police departments, support the local animal shelter, and serve at a Veterans’ Day Breakfast. Every day in the classroom and hallways, students are praised for exhibiting good character.