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DMES is a National School of Character

Posted: October 22, 2013 7:34 p.m.
Updated: October 23, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Vickie Norton

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Doby’s Mill Elementary School (DMES) is one of three South Carolina National School of Character (NSOC) so designated this year.

DMES Principal Ginger Catoe, Media Specialist Betsy Long and Intervention Specialist Vickie Norton will participate in a National Forum on Character Education in Washington, D.C., Thursday through Sunday to lead the conversation on non-traditional methodology that helps get students active and motivated holistically.

NSOC acknowledges “schools and districts that have demonstrated through a rigorous evaluation process that character development has had a positive impact on academics, student behavior, and school climate. They are now expected to serve as models for other schools, helping them to achieve the same results. (Schools) will enjoy the distinction of a National School of Character for five years,” according to its website. In 2011, DMES was selected as a state SOC award winner and a runner up in the NSOC competition.

Character integration is an important part of DMES’ education component since opening in 2002, Norton said. Its motto, “Catch the W.A.V.E,” challenges students to have “winning attitudes and visions of excellence.” Implementing programs like Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS) and Rational Approaches to Practical School Discipline (RAPS) has helped push them toward earning the NSOC award. Since children change, the school has to make adjustments to meet their needs, Norton said, hence DMES’ utilization of mentoring and parenting programs.

In the last five years, Long said she has been able to host more book clubs than ever before because new “high quality literature” about character development and the importance of treating others well has been made available. The utilization of district-wide programs mixed with some of its own “home-grown” programs, along with help from the community, has helped DMES administrators “provide a safe, nurturing, innovative learning environment that empowers” its more than 550 current students, of which almost 60 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch, according to their application,” Long said.

“Providing values-based instruction for our students is no different than providing academic instruction in reading, math, science, and social studies, and the arts,” Catoe said. “Character education is the cornerstone to the total educational process as it enhances our school culture. By implementing our character education initiatives, we note that teachers gain instructional time because more of our daily time is allotted to proactive and positive student learning rather than to reactionary discipline.”

One part of the application process includes identifying how DMES has implemented the NCOS’ 11 “Principles of Effective Character Education.” DMES provided evidence showing how it creates a caring school community, foster students’ self-motivation and defines character to include thinking, feeling and doing. DMES faculty lead students by example: a 2012 school climate attitude survey found 95.6 percent of people feel that DMES’ core values are exemplified by teachers. DMES’s annual school report card revealed that 95 percent of parents were happy with their “school-home” relations.

One program helping DMES close the achievement gap and lower discipline referrals is a new club called Brain Sparks. Brain Sparks will be recognized as a 2013 Promising Practice during the forum in Washington, in addition to DMES’ NSOC recognition.

Linked with the NSOC, Promising Practices sends a nod to educators who have implemented “unique, specific and effective character education programs,” according its website. Long started “Brain Sparks” after reading “Spark: The Revolutionary new Science of Exercise and the Brain,” by Dr. John Ratey. Self-esteem, work ethic and attitude inherently affect a student’s academic and social behavior, Long said. Students in Brain Sparks meet for 30 minutes at 8 a.m. each school day to do a variety of cardiovascular exercise before going to their first class. Brain Sparks currently helps 20 fourth-and fifth-grade DMES students, Long said. The program has helped lower the number of discipline referrals among the group to zero and helps reinforce DMES’s Beamon Beacon Character Words and the PBIS Focus Behavior of the Month. DMES’s use of Beamon Beacon Character Words earned it a 2011 Promising Practice award. Most of the students in the group have previously struggled with academics; a small portion of the group has behavioral problems, according to DMES’ 2013 Promising Practice Application. Students set quarterly goals and work on achieving the goals, while positively praising each other, according to the application.

Brain Sparks has made a positive impact by “promoting self-motivation and core values,” Long said. Standardized and PBIS data shows that this targeted group has benefited from regular exercise in more ways than one, Long said. She cited that one student in Brain Sparks, who had accumulated 12 discipline referrals over a period of three years, currently has none and has become an athletic mentor for other students at the school. Another student who “lacked confidence academically and socially,” took on a leadership role at DMES as a “result of his newfound leadership and self-motivation skill set.”

 DMES will host a “Hot Topic” session on how to engage all students and feature Brain Sparks and several other DMES programs, as well as a poster session.



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