Opie Taylor, the fictional small-town boy on The Andy Griffith Show, had it pretty good growing up in the close-knit town of Mayberry. He was reared by a loving dad
who taught him right from wrong in a community who reinforced the same shared values. All parents dream of raising their children in a “Mayberry.” Some people even compare Granbury to Mayberry, as we— thankfully–seem far removed from big city crime and mayhem.
Part of the Granbury community that is partnering with parents in teaching and reinforcing good character are schools. Character curriculum has been taught in the schools for a number of years, but one campus is taking it to a high-octane level. The
Oakwoods Elementary community is doing its best to become a little slice of “Mayberry” with principal Donnie Cody being the “dad” of his “kids”.
The previous character curriculum had “lost its steam” said Principal Cody. “I felt it was time to do something different…to get some energy into it.” Principal Cody exudes great energy as he speaks, wanting “to make an impact 10-15 years down the road. We believe and emphasize good character is our top priority for teachers and students. Believe it or not, academics is our number two priority. It really doesn’t matter in life how smart you are if you cannot get along with others–especially with all that is happening in the world. We want to plant the seeds of good character in our kids.”
The Oakwoods leadership team chose a curriculum called Character Counts for the 2017-2018 school year and is using it again this year. Character Counts is an integrated program that emphasizes good character traits and is blended into all the students do each day. There are six pillars with one pillar emphasized each month. The pillars are Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship (TRRFCC). Teachers teach the character traits using the T.E.A.M. approach (Teach, Enforce, Advocate and Model). There are lessons and activities that take place daily, weekly and monthly throughout the school year. The campus leadership team meets each month to reflect and plan for the next month’s emphasis.
A different theme is picked each year. The campus leadership team came up with the “Kindness is not Extinct” theme this year—because all kids love dinosaurs, right? The school is decorated with dinosaurs galore for kids and teachers to keep the theme in mind.
Last year Oakwoods went enthusiastically above and beyond the basic curriculum and was recognized as an honorable mention school in their first application to be named a School of Character by charactercounts.org. The application process is pretty extensive. A committee creates a portfolio with detailed information and pictures of creative, original character-building ideas implemented throughout the year. This year
the school is going through the application process again. The ultimate goal is not to be named a School of Character; it truly is Principal Cody’s goal “to shape young minds in a positive way and make an impact on our community for years to come.” He is doing all he can to make that happen.
Each day students gather in the cafeteria for morning pledges and announcements and Mr. Cody shares about the character quality that will be reiterated throughout a student’s day. The month of September the pillar taught was trustworthiness. Stories were read in classrooms that illustrated trustworthiness. Examples were offered for discussion. Pictures were drawn to illustrate a person doing something trustworthy. Skits were performed about earning trust.
Each pillar is taught with the overarching character quality of kindness being modeled by teachers. “Mr. Cody really encourages us to have this posture of kindness whether you’re walking down the halls, going to lunch or after school duty, in conversation, even when we’re having to discipline it’s done out of kindness and respect and love and it’s not done out of condescension,” explained school librarian, Lissa Oliver. “My attitude of everything I do and see bleeds into everything they do and see.”
One of the favorite activities for the kids is going once a week to the Kindness Club, created and led by Mrs. Oliver, who brainstorms ideas every month for kids to show kindness. One week they made birthday cards and delivered them. Another week they wrote post-it notes of encouragement and put those on people’s lockers. Kids also wrote appreciation emails to teachers. “They wrote things like, ‘You make me smile every single day,’ or ‘When I walk in here I know you care about me.’ Teachers were crying and hearing from students that they hadn’t had in years and also hearing from students that they hadn’t even had in class,” said Mrs. Oliver.
Another activity that Mrs. Oliver implemented is handing out Certificates of Kindness. The idea is to say encouraging words to someone and have Mrs. Oliver or someone else video it in order to see the recipient’s impromptu reaction. She then puts it on Youtube and plays it for the kids so everyone can see what is going on in the school. “Their reaction on video is just so special,” she shared.
Another aspect of being kind is learning to be kind to yourself so you can be kind to others, “You would be surprised at kids even at this young of an age have really bad thoughts about themselves,” said Mrs. Oliver. “We call this saying daily affirmations to yourself–say something kind to yourself every day.”
Music teacher, Cami Gilbert likes to reinforce good character traits exhibited among students. “I find the times we compliment others and call out what character trait they are modeling are the best ways to show the children what it truly means. Our Oak Woods Roadrunners are enjoying these positive lessons and they seem to be proud of themselves when we catch them in action working on these traits!”
Throughout the week teachers email the assistant principal recognizing Random Acts of Kindness displayed by students. Then, during morning assembly on Fridays, a lucky student is called on stage and commended for performing an act of kindness. It is a big honor to be on that stage.
Kindness is also extended through community service projects. Mr. Cody brainstormed having a First Responders Day on September 11. Every grade level participated by creating the invite, making invitation phone calls to police and fire stations, and decorating and filling goody bags. Fourth and fifth graders handed out the goody bags to many appreciative first responders who drove in front of the school. More projects are planned to help students be more service-minded in their community.
The impact of the kindness campaign is felt by teachers, students and parents. P.E. teacher Mitzi Johnson shared, “The biggest difference I see is in our conflict resolution–we have kids more willing to work things out with one another in a kind way this year.” Second grader Lennon Mahan said, “It has made me more aware of how it makes people happy when you are kind. It feels good to be kind.” Lennon’s mom, Kelly Mahan, shared, “Lennon comes home from school looking for ways to make a difference in someone else’s day.”
Living in Mayberry may be possible after all.