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2020 State Schools of Character Recognition - Virtual Ceremony

State School of Character and Honorable Mention School of Character

Criteria for selection are based on Character.org’s ​11 Principles of Character, which include providing students with opportunities for moral action, fostering shared leadership and engaging families and communities as partners in the character-building effort.

In Schools of Character, adults embrace their critical role as models. Teachers work together as professionals - along with parents and community members as partners - to positively shape the social, emotional, and character development of the young people entrusted to them each day. Students in these schools feel safe, respected, and connected to those around them, allowing them to thrive academically and socially and be motivated to give back to their communities.

State School of Character

Complete High School Maize - USD 266 - Maize, Kansas

NEW! Complete High School Maize Named 2020 National School of Character

NEW! Opinion article on education news site "the74" featuring Complete High School Maize


Honorable Mention School of Character

Beloit Elementary School - USD 273 - Beloit, Kansas

Stockton Elementary School - USD 271 - Stockton, Kansas


Shifting School Culture Recognition

Recognizes schools and districts that have developed and implemented an SECD initiative or program for at least one year and are transforming the school culture, district culture, or both - as well as growing student SECD skills. These initiatives or programs must support the KS SECD Standards and the school or district KESA goals, the Redesign Principles, or a combination of the above. 

Beloit Elementary School - USD 273 - Beloit, Kansas

Cottonwood Elementary School - USD 305 - Salina, Kansas

David Brewer Elementary School - USD 453 - Leavenworth, Kansas

Fowler Grade School - USD 225 - Fowler, Kansas

Fowler Junior/Senior High School - USD 225 - Fowler, Kansas

Lakeside Elementary School - USD 250 - Pittsburg, Kansas

Stockton Grade School - USD 271 - Stockton, Kansas

Sunset Elementary School - USD 373 - Newton, Kansas


Enhanced Spotlight Recognition

Recognizes schools and districts that are implementing new initiatives or are enhancing existing initiatives that will strengthen the social, emotional and character development skills in their students and school climate. Initiatives must support at least one of the KS SECD Standards strands and support one or more of the KESA 5R’s, the Redesign Principles, or both.  

Caldwell Elementary School - USD 360 - Caldwell, Kansas

Green Springs Elementary School - USD 233 - Olathe, Kansas

Lakeside Elementary School - USD 250 - Pittsburg, Kansas

Lakeside Elementary School - USD 272 - Cawker City, Kansas

Marais des Cygnes Valley District - USD 456 - Melvern, Kansas

Olathe West High School - USD 233 - Olathe, Kansas

Spring Valley Elementary School - USD 475 - Junction City, Kansas

Trail Ridge Middle School - USD 231 - Gardner, Kansas

Whittier Elementary School - USD 465 - Winfield, Kansas

State School of Character

Complete High School Maize - USD 266 - Maize, Kansas

Complete High School Maize continues to focus on ten character traits – friendship, compassion, respect, responsibility, generosity, self-discipline, integrity, cooperation, optimism, and grit. These traits were chosen in 2009 by district stakeholders and are revisited at least twice a year to ensure they remain relevant and updated. They also support “The Maize Way”, the district’s guidelines for implementing character education and emphasis on the use of common language among staff, students and parents.

Complete Maize promotes a student-centered and service-oriented curriculum. At the center, is a class titled “One Minute Lessons”. Each day for one hour, all students and assigned staff meet to learn about, discuss, and model the character trait assigned for the month. Staff developed their own standards-based character education curriculum and have shared it with other schools for free.

Training in trauma sensitive practices and Capturing Kid’s Hearts has been essential in the move away from viewing challenging students as “attention seeking” to “connection seeking” and the staff philosophy of “Look for the good in students until they can find it themselves.”  This has led to starting classes with “Good Things,” brain breaks, social contracts, and utilizing four questions to handle behavior. Staff try to utilize natural consequences to resolve most issues, and/or have the student help determine the consequence. When a student is not meeting expectations, the student is asked to attend a staff meeting where the student and staff try to determine the root of the issue.

The science teacher has led the charge to “leave no child INSIDE” by implementing programs such as Kansas WILD and Fishings Future, which have led to camping trips, building a community garden, and hosting a community fishing derby. Youth Entrepreneurs is new initiative that has been added to the business curriculum. And a bigger push has been made to encourage students to take classes at local colleges. To help support students an Introduction to College Life class has been implemented and includes everything from taking students to the campus bookstore, to finding their classes on campus, to logging into the college’s online systems. Almost half of their students are now enrolled in a college class. 

Students develop their own Personal Education Plans, making decisions on when they want to graduate, how many classes they will finish per term, and what electives they will participate in. Staff meet twice a week to discuss student progress and engage consistently with students on their plan.  Because students can finish graduation requirements all throughout the year, new students are brought in every quarter. To help teach new students understand the school culture, policies, and procedures, each new student is assigned a student mentor. Student mentors are trained and help lead the new student through the orientation packet, understand the school’s values and expectations, make them feel welcome and answer questions as they arise. To continue to maintain relationships students engage in a twice-a-week 30 minute “Town Hall Meetings” where students and staff discuss announcements, concerns, and ideas as well as reflect on projects and events. The Principal is also provided student guidance on school initiatives by the Breakfast Club, a student leadership team that meets once a quarter. 

Another new initiative focused on being student-centered is online gaming and e-sports. To do this, staff wrote a first-of-its-kind e-sports curriculum called Gaming Concepts that is focused on social-emotional learning and college and career ready skills. Students can take the course during school hours for high school credit and there is also an after-school competitive e-sports team. 85% of the students on the team have never participated in a school-sponsored activity before.

Staff consciously connect service learning with curriculum through project-based learning. One example is the opening of a General Store at a local retirement community. Students surveyed residents about their needs, planned, organized, shopped for, and opened the store. Now, approximately 40% of the students earn business or math credits with this project. Just as important are the leadership skills and relationships students are building through this experience. Students volunteer to play cards once a month with residents, assist with different retirement community events, and help residents with their technology during “Technology Days”. This has been so successful that the company is looking to model this with other schools near their 70-plus locations.

Students do many other service projects including: visiting assisted-living centers, assisting in the district food bank, participating in the Adopt-a-Highway program, and helping the Salvation Army. Over half of Complete Maize’s students were requested by elementary teachers as tutors. And once a month, all students participate in two hours of community service as a school. Students learn they don’t just “have” good character, they have to “practice” good character.

Honorable Mention School of Character

Beloit Elementary School - USD 273 - Beloit, Kansas

The Beloit Elementary School motto is “BES Expects Success” and three main core values are promoted - Respectful, Responsible, and Ready to Learn. These are derived from the 16 Boys Town Life Skills and align with the Six Pillars of Character. Each month one of the six pillars and weekly one of the 16 Boys Town Skills is promoted and focused on. Each day starts with the skill of the week and character trait of the month broadcast over the announcements. That is followed by the character pledge and then 20 minutes of BES Skills Time. Lessons of the skill of the week and trait of the month are directly taught during this time using activities that include student reflection, discussion and role-plays. Time has also been made in the schedule for Olweus Bully Prevention lessons.

Beloit Elementary is in year 3 of school redesign and one of their redesign initiatives is Project-based learning. Project-based learning provides opportunities for deeper learning in-context and for skills tied to college and career readiness. The skills and traits being taught during BES Skills Time is encouraged and supported throughout the rest of the day and project-based learning provides a perfect opportunity for curriculum integration. Through Project-based learning, students learn teamwork, disagreeing appropriately, problem-solving, leadership skills, and work ethic.

Monthly character assemblies called Keys to Success are held to promote the trait of the month. Grade levels take turns creating and teaching a lesson to the rest of the school on the trait of the month through skits, songs, presentations or videos. A student out of each class is also recognized for successfully displaying the character trait of the month. Radio advertisements are recorded by students around the character trait of the month and are played on local stations.

Building relationships with families and the community is also a focus. Parents, families, and community members are invited to attend the monthly character assemblies. Parents are encouraged to eat lunch with their child anytime and are invited to various events including the welcome back carnival and family bingo night. In September Grandparents Day is also celebrated. 

Positive office referral procedures provide an opportunity for positive home communications. Students demonstrating the six pillars can receive a positive office referral. Their name announced over the announcements and are then referred to the office where they make a positive phone call home telling their parents how they displayed good character. The student also get to sign their name on the wall inside the front doors.  

Trojan Bucks for K through 3rd grade and Shining Stars for 4th through 6th grade, are used by staff to recognize students demonstrating positive behavior or doing something nice. Trojan Bucks are used to purchase items from the Trojan Store. Shining Stars are rewarded with coupons for free ice cream and donuts, and pizza.

Students have many different opportunities to put their BES Skills to use. Older grade students are paired up with younger grades to help with various class projects and one-on-one reading. Third through Sixth grade students can apply for leadership jobs, including morning greeter, new student ambassador, mess monitor, lunchroom helper, and morning reading buddies. And student ambassadors give new students tours of the building and help them feel welcome.

The school has implemented a recycling program in which the 6th grade class collects the items weekly. BES students raised money to help a fellow student who was a recipient of a liver transplant. Over $5,000 was raised for this family. Pennies for Patients, Jump Rope for Heart, community-wide service learning day and collecting food for the local food bank are also community service projects students participate in.

In an extended service learning project, the third grade class is working with the City of Beloit to find better ways to utilize Thierolf Park. The class visited the park to understand the layout and to take measurements. Each student then made drawings of the park and gave ideas for improvements. Improvements were narrowed to the top three with the next steps researching the cost to implement those three ideas. Once costs are determined they will meet again with city officials to discuss ways to pay for the project.

The Boys Town committee is responsible for directing the character education efforts in the school. The committee has representatives from different grade levels and school departments. They meet regularly to analyze the program and make needed changes. They also plan and deliver in-service trainings.

Staff receive training and coaching support in the Boys Town Model, including new staff each year. Each teacher is formally observed twice a year as an opportunity to get feedback and reflect on what is going well and what adjustments they need to make. Materials and resources were purchased for each classroom as well as posters that are displayed in all classrooms and hallways that detail the steps to accomplishing the Boys Town Skills. Staff have also received training on self-regulation, trauma-informed practices, and building relationships. Other materials, like student literature that support the focused skills and traits are purchased and used in the classroom.

Honorable Mention School of Character

Stockton Elementary School - USD 271 - Stockton, Kansas

Tiger Touchstones - Confidence, Creativity, Honesty, Integrity, Responsibility, and Respect - are the guiding light for professional decision making and to establish student and staff norms and expectations at Stockton Grade School. Students, staff, and community stakeholders voted on the language for the Touchstones. Visual displays of the Touchstones, as well as growth mindset, Habits of Mind, and character education are posted throughout the building to serve as reminders and encourages. Stockton Grade School is one of the original Mercury 7 redesign design schools and social-emotional development has been one of their key initiatives. The Tiger Touchstones have provided a solid social-emotional foundation that is now woven throughout student and staff handbooks, mission and vision statements, community group weekly lesson topics, and day-to-day policies and procedures.

An example of this, is the adopted staff mantra, “You are safe. You are loved. You have people.” It is also seen in the vision statement “We are TIGER Ready!” In order to be TIGER Ready, the daily foundations focus on the touchstones, innovation, grit, empowering students and relationships.

Thinking, feeling and doing are part of the Stockton Grade School culture with teachers giving students daily opportunities to make a conscious effort to practice living by the Touchstones. Using the research-based core competencies of the Kansans Can Competency Framework and their assessment tools, self-regulation was selected as a target area. Because of this, Zones of Regulation was implemented and teachers have made emotional check-in part of their daily greeting with students. Students choose how they want to physically greet their teacher with a fist bump, high five, or hug, and then express which zone they are in. Students now have the language to name and express their emotions.

In order to help students with the next step of managing emotions productively, a regulation room was been created to allow students the opportunity to practice self-regulation skills and reflection. The room doubles as the Counselor’s office, so someone is available to help students if they need support. This focus on self-regulation has led to students being able to co-regulate and support peers as well as the younger members of their community groups.

Reflection is facilitated once a week during community groups as journal writing and gratitude prompts. Reflection is also part of their behavior model by asking questions on what the student could do different next time an issue arises and how they can be proactive to keep the situation from becoming an issue.

Along with this teachers have integrated self-regulation into their daily lessons and classroom procedures. When first training in the Kansans Can Competency Framework, teachers were asked to submit a lesson plan to the trainers. Support was then given on helping the teacher discover interventions that worked best in their classroom with their specific subject area.

Each classroom is driven by student discussion, a student developed code of conduct, debate and student-led lessons.  Sports teams are also expected to create a code of ethics and each player is then expected to adhere to that code.

As a way to build relationships, Community Groups were started in the spring of 2018 and met one day a week for 30 minutes with Kindergarten through 5th grade. Due to the positive student and community response in the fall of 2019 these groups were expanded to include Preschool and 6th and 7th grade. The frequency was also increased from once a week to daily 30 minute meeting times.

Additional student requests were made for more time with their community groups. In response, the schedule was adjusted to include a common time for lunch, special occasions such as Global School Play Day, high school community partners, as well as Christmas and end of the year celebrations.

Outside of Community Groups, students at Stockton Grade School do a mixture of community and service learning. Junior High students are reading buddies with Kindergartners and support the fourth and fifth grade students in their community groups with math work. Junior High and High School students collaborated to create “Pride Day,” a day devoted to students working in the community. And each year, the elementary students find a cause to support and then raise money by volunteering their time to work for community members doing things like raking leaves or cleaning yards.

Students also engage in Project-Based Learning where students are able to align learning with their passions, building internal motivation. Some of these projects have also served the community, for example The Veteran’s Day Program. This program had K-3 grade students sing and performed the Pledge of Allegiance, the 4th-5th grade students spoke about the American Flag, and the 6th-7th grade students interviewed veterans and then put together a movie about their lives which was aired at this program.

Community and parent involvement have been essential. Five Foster Grandparents work in the K-3rd grade classrooms, building generational connections with students. Parents are encouraged to attend quarterly Ed-Camp style meetings where volunteer parents and teachers lead discussions on initiatives in the school. Parents also host quarterly Family Engagement Nights for Pre-Kindergarten through seventh grade. There has been an increase in Parent-Teacher conferences and they are currently working towards student-led conferences. Seesaw, Facebook, Twitter and live feeds on the district website are also utilized to inform community members and parents about what is happening.

Shifting School Culture Recognition

Beloit Elementary School - USD 273 - Beloit, Kansas

Keys to Success

In the fall of 2018, Beloit Elementary started holding monthly assemblies called “Keys to Success” that focused on character traits. These assemblies were designed to bring the whole school together to learn about that character trait and to recognize students displaying the spotlighted trait. This current school year, the assemblies were enhanced by having students teach the character trait through different methods. Examples of programs included: a play on respect, videos on how to be a good citizen and showing perseverance, and songs sung for caring and friendship. Character traits that are highlighted are: Respect for the months of August and September, Citizenship in October, Caring in November, Responsibility in January, Perseverance in February, Trustworthiness, in March and Fairness in April and May.

Students who are nominated by teachers who felt the student had demonstrated the character trait of that month are also recognized at the assembly by the Beloit Elementary Principal. The audience hears why the student was recognized, the students receive a certificate and their picture is taken.

This initiative also includes community outreach. The community is invited to the character programs and are well attended. Students record local radio spots that are broadcast throughout the month detailing the monthly character trait. Character traits are also shared on social media.

As an extension, in the summer of 2019, the schedule was reworked to provide 20 minutes at the start of each school day to focus on character development. Teachers lead their class through activities to teach character traits and Boys Town skills. These activities include role playing, class discussions, and videos.

This focus was even further enhanced this year by having staff members give positive office referrals to students that demonstrate a character trait throughout the school day. The Principal and Assistant Principal call the parents of the student and tell them why their child received a positive referral. The students then place their name on the character wall.

Shifting School Culture Recognition

Cottonwood Elementary School - USD 305 - Salina, Kansas

Family University

Family University is guided by the principles of Engage - Empower - Support and was designed after surveying parents on family needs. The goal was to provide parents and caregivers training and access to skills through collaboration with community and school resources. The University met the first Monday of every month starting in September from 5:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. A meal was provided at 5:30 p.m. by St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church and classes started at 6:00 p.m. Parents rotated between two 30-minute sessions each evening. The students went to the gym where the YMCA provided activities. 

The classes offered included Social-Emotional Health and Wellness in September and February with a focus on nutrition, mastering emotions, emotional literacy, a parent’s guide to mindsets, and healthy family activities. October and March focused on Academic Support for Students at Home and included raising a reader, tips for reading skills, helping students with math, communicating with teachers, study skills, and building executive functions. Personal Growth and Development was the lineup for November and April with information on budgeting, computer skills, resumes/applications, and job training.  And Mindful Parenting which included positive discipline, Love and Logic, quality time with children, and reducing power struggles with young children completed the schedule for December and May. Parents were given a goal setting form for the classes they attended.       

Twenty-five families participated in each monthly gathering. Feedback provided by the parents was very positive and it was evident that they were looking for help. Staff also learned from the program and it strengthened family school relationships.

Shifting School Culture Recognition

David Brewer Elementary School - USD 453 - Leavenworth, Kansas

Escape to Middle School Night

Escape to Middle School Night was held spring 2019 for 5th grade students and their families. Students met with the School Counselor and other members of the Family Engagement team in the Library for a fun escape room challenge complete with pizza, soda, and prizes for those who escaped before time ran out. The challenges focused on tips and strategies that would help students transition and prepare themselves for middle school success. Students also received a new chapter book to take home.  

While students were in the library, parents and guardians were meeting with their child’s teacher to learn how to read the ELA scores and engaging in literacy activities that could be used at home for additional practice. All parents wore nametags and participated in introductions and ice breaker games. 

Attendance was amazing, over 98%. Parents who had never stepped foot in the door showed up and reported that they enjoyed the evening and learned a lot. In order for students to attend the escape room, their parents had to attend. Staff got students excited about the event and had them make personal invitations that were mailed to their homes. Phone calls were made to personally invite parents, flyers were sent home and information was posted on Facebook.

This event was scheduled again for this spring and would have included 4th and 5th grade students and parents since both will be moving to the district’s new Intermediate Center. An additional grade level event was also planned, “Friends with Firsties”. This game themed night was for 1st graders where they would learn to play new games taught by the 5th graders and have the opportunity to practice social skills and build relationships with the older students. During game time, the 1st grade parents would be meeting with their child’s teacher to learn to read ELA scores and learn take home activities. Both of these had to be canceled, however, due to school buildings closing for COVID-19.

Shifting School Culture Recognition

Fowler Grade School - USD 225 - Fowler, Kansas

7 Habits Program

The 7 Habits Program is a school-wide leadership program built upon Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. This main components of the program are morning announcements, school-wide leadership roles, the student leadership council, support materials, discipline, goal setting, physical environment, and professional development. The 7 habits are weaved into all of these components.

Morning procedures were ramped up to create an energetic start to the day, emphasizing the schools values and beliefs. Student greeters open the doors at 7:30 a.m. to make eye contact, shake hands, and say something nice as students enter the building. Ten minutes before class starts a 7 habits song is played over the intercom. Teachers are waiting at the door to great students with a greeting of their choice – handshake, high five, fist bump, hug, etc. Classroom Morning Meetings begin each morning and include announcements, birthdays, but also the teacher states the 3 verbal commitments, student’s state the school leadership statement, the Principal shares one of the 7 Habits and progress reports toward the school’s Wildly Important Goal.

Eighteen school-wide leadership roles for students has been created. Each student who is on the Leadership Council partners with a teacher to conduct interviews for a portion of the positions. Students who apply are guided towards a leadership position that matches their personality. If there are more students interested in a position than are needed, a monthly rotation is established. Leadership roles range from Birthday Sticker Fairy to Lost and Found Police to Tour Guide.

The Leadership Council has a representative from each class. These individuals are elected by their class and all 4th and 5th graders have the opportunity to run for President and Vice-President. The Council meets bimonthly and they analyze the school’s Wildly Important Goal data, plan celebrations, and share ideas and concerns.

Teachers reinforce development of the 7 Habits in their classroom curriculum and structures and continue to hone their own skill set through further professional development. Students develop a growth mindset by setting individual goals in their leadership notebook and track their progress over time. Habits-based language is used during discipline matters to help the student reflect and identify what steps they need to take to in the future. Posters and flags are hung through the building with the 7 Habits as a visual reminder.

Shifting School Culture Recognition

Fowler Junior/Senior High School - USD 225 - Fowler, Kansas

Mentoring Program

The Mentoring Program was developed to build positive and professional student and staff relationships, as well as integrate social-emotional principles. Prior to the school year teachers participated in a mentee draft with the focus being to select students they would be able to develop a deeper connection and a greater chance to guide them toward academic success. This is an open and honest process and teachers do not select their favorite or the easiest student. Students stay with their mentor throughout their middle and high school career. On average, a teacher mentors ten students a year.

Students participate in weekly one-on-one, 10-minute meetings with their mentor. This is a time for students to share highs and lows, review goals, create new goals, and plan for the upcoming week. This is a facilitation process with the mentor asking questions and guiding students to reflect and make personal choices. Academics as well as social-emotional or personal situations can be addressed during this time.

Goals include short-term daily goals, as well as weekly and long-term annual goals. Long-term goals are connected to the student’s Individual Plan of Study. Weekly goals are addressed during the weekly mentoring meetings and daily goals are set during self-directed learning time. Students are taught how to set SMART goals and part of the planning process includes discussion of the Habits of Success. Sixteen total Habits are addressed and range from growth mindset, curiosity, self-regulation, to empathy.  

Mentors are responsible for making personal contacts with their mentee’s parents each quarter. The first is a phone call introducing themselves and inviting the parent to the Back-to-School night. Parent-Teacher Conferences begin with the mentor sharing school information and the student’s general progress. In mid-October students share with parents a checklist of school information including curriculum and grading policies. These are returned with parent comments and then guide the second quarter phone contact. The third quarter contact is a handwritten card mailed to parents sharing positive information about their child and an invitation to Individual Plans of Study meeting in April which is the fourth quarter contact.

Mentors oversee the Individual Plans of Study of their mentees. They lead the family and student through discussions on post-secondary goals, options for the Career and Tech Education pathways and other programs, assessment results, credit needs, and ideas for required internships. They also guide the student in class selection and reviews the IPS prior to the end of the first semester.

Professional development, including Summit Learning, has been provided for all processes. Teacher guides and videos have been provided, as well as basic scripts for phone calls and a flowchart to guide the mentor through the IPS meeting.

Shifting School Culture Recognition

Lakeside Elementary School - USD 250 - Pittsburg, Kansas

Be the Change

The “Be the Change” initiative has been in place for four years and has an overall goal of helping students, staff and families see that everyone can be the change that they want to see in the world – everyone can take steps to make it a kinder and more peaceful world. Initiative components focus on building relationships, coordinating activities that impact the community, and improving climate and culture.

The Principal greets students daily at the parent drop off lane no matter what the weather is. She assists student with opening doors, helping students out of vehicles, tying shoes and easing students into the day with a smile, hug, high five or fist bump.

SEAL Awards – Social Emotional Academic Learning – recognize students who have demonstrated acts of kindness. Teachers submit student names to the office, students are then called to the office to receive a note of thanks that describes their kind act. Students can also get called to the office for a Positive Office Referral when they have been recognized by their teacher for positive behavior. The student receives a certificate from the Principal and then gets to call their parent to tell them about the positive office referral.

Students can apply and be selected for Student Ambassadors and K-Kids. Both of these groups work on community projects that help to create a positive impact on the community. Projects have included fundraisers for charities, writing kind notes to others, and visiting residents of nursing homes.

Fifth grade students have had the opportunity to participate in the service learning project of building Puppy Palaces to raise funds for the Humane Society. Fourth grade students have partnered with the local quilting group and the national Quilts of Valor organization to design and make quilts that are presented to nominated veterans. The quilting group comes to the school weekly to work with students on designing, cutting, sewing, and assembling the quilts. Students learn about the contributions of the veterans they are making the quilts for. The President of national Quilts of Valor has presented on the history of the organization and the impact of its work. The quilts are completed in conjunction with Veterans Day and an assembly is held where the quilts are presented to the veterans and all Lakeside students attend.

Lastly, the Parent-Teacher Organization sets up the Santa Shop where students can purchase gifts for their families for Christmas. Every student is provided with $5 of Santa Bucks, so all students have the opportunity to shop. Students can also bring money from home, but it isn’t necessary. The fifth grade students serve as Santa’s Helpers and are partnered with a younger student to help them shop and wrap the gifts.

Shifting School Culture Recognition

Stockton Grade School - USD 271 - Stockton, Kansas

Community Groups

As a way to build relationships, Community Groups were started in the spring of 2018 and meet one day a week for 30 minutes with Kindergarten through 5th grade. Because of the positive student and community response in the fall of 2018, these groups were expanded to include Preschool and 6th and 7th grade. The frequency was also increased from once a week to daily 30-minute meeting times.

Not only is this a time for students to connect with staff and other students outside of their grade level, it is also a time that they participate in a variety of lessons aligned to the Kansas SECD Standards. Lessons have focused on a variety or topic areas including the Habits of the Mind, goal setting, Zones of Regulation, gratitude journals, teambuilding and mindfulness. The district-wide Tiger Touchstones - Honesty, Integrity, Confidence, Creativity, Responsibility, and Respect - are also addressed and emphasized during this time.

In response to student requests for more time with their community groups, the schedule was adjusted to include a common time for lunch, special occasions such as Global School Play Day, high school community partners, as well as Christmas and end of the year celebrations.

An unintended benefit of these groups was the student-driven desire to engage with community stakeholders. Food drives have been organized, letters have been written to soldiers overseas and local veterans, Christmas caroling has taken place at the nursing home, and law enforcement have been celebrated. Parents have expressed great support for the community groups and the relationships that students are building. 

Shifting School Culture Recognition

Sunset Elementary School - USD 373 - Newton, Kansas

Trauma Responsive Initiative

Sunset began their journey to become trauma responsive three years ago by adopting a new mission statement, “We love you and there is nothing you can do about it.” Students recite the mantra, “I am safe. I am loved. I have people,” every morning along with a school-wide breathing or calming activity.

Zones of Regulation has been used to develop staff and student emotional knowledge and vocabulary. Students are taught that all zones are neither, good or bad, but a way identify how their body and brain react to emotions. First thing in the morning and throughout the day, students identify the zone they are in. This helps students know where they are at and for adults to provide students with the support they need to be successful in the classroom. Information has been shared with parents so they can continue conversations with their child at home.

Calming Corners were set up in classrooms and multi-use areas, to give students a place to go to calm and regulate when they need a break. This allows the teacher to continue teaching, the class to continue learning, and the individual to build their self-regulation skills. The student sets a timer, chooses calming activities from a ‘toolbox’ and returns to instruction at the end of the timer.

If a student is unable to self-regulate in the Calm Corner, they go to the Peace Place. This is a separate room equipped with various activities to help the student calm, regulate, and return to class. This is also a place where students are scheduled to go for break times. Data shows that scheduled break times have reduced the number of classroom disruptions and the number of unscheduled visits to the Peace Place.

Daily social-emotional lessons occur and focus on the social and emotional needs specific to the students within each classroom. Mind Up, Caring Schools Communities and Class Dojo videos are examples of the resources used for these lessons. Each teacher has been given a Resilience Notebook. This notebook has example lessons and strategies that the teacher can use to address specific issues. Staff also present two social-emotional lessons at every staff meeting and resources are shared to add to the Resilience Notebooks.

Two churches have adopted the school and volunteer to greet students every day with a smile or a hug. They also help at every school activity and have hosted events like Back to School Night. Another church purchased water bottles for every student to help reduce the stress hormone, cortisol, through proper hydration.

Welcoming students back from being absent is standard. Every day an adult visits each student that was absent the previous day to personally welcome them back. This ensures that each student knows they are important and truly missed.

Enhanced Spotlight Recognition

Caldwell Elementary School - USD 360 - Caldwell, Kansas

Caught with Character Initiative

Caught with Character is a positive office referral system with the goal of building more positive relationships with students and parents and to decrease negative office referrals by 25%. It replaced Student of the Month which was too infrequent and only acknowledged a handful of students. Students can be Caught with Character multiple times and any time of the school day or year.

A 100-pocket chart is hung in the hallway and the school-wide goal is to fill it by the end of the year with acts of leadership or kindness. When there is a blackout, a local business provides popsicles to the entire school. And if the school reaches the goal of 25% fewer negative office referrals, students will have an extended recess in the park, also with popsicles.

When any staff member witnesses a student demonstrating leadership or kindness, they write the student up on a Caught with Character slip and send them to the office with the slip. The office staff recognizes the leadership or kindness of the student, the student signs the VIP Guestbook and the principal calls the student’s parents to report what the student is being recognized for. The principal and student take a selfie which is posted on the school Facebook and Twitter, and the student picks a number from the 100s bowl to know where to put their slip in the 100s pocket chart.

Just because school has moved on-line, doesn’t mean Caught with Character has stopped. Teachers still recognize students via email. The principal then calls or Zooms with parents and has the parents send a picture of the student to post on social media. The principal also joins the weekly classroom Zoom meeting to give a shout-out to the student.

Enhanced Spotlight Recognition

Green Springs Elementary School - USD 233 - Olathe, Kansas

"Together We Will Fly!"

Each year Green Springs initiates a school-wide theme to enhance school culture and character development based in response to staff input and the SEL data collected from their Panorama surveys which are taken three times a year. “Together We Will Fly!” is based on the belief that when we work together and include everyone, we can achieve more. This theme and was chosen because of their ‘sense of belonging’ score on surveys.   

The Green Springs Families, consist of six to eight students from various grade levels and one adult, meet once a month. Character lessons during meetings are focused on the theme, with emphasis on relationships and building connection.

Each specialist is part of a grade level PLC and provides small group instruction to targeted students during daily Smart Start time. Students are asked to annually provide input on the staff member they trust the most. And staff are asked to identify students they feel they have a close relationship with. This provides valuable information on students that are lacking connections.

Meet the Gators highlighted 10 students each week in the foyer with their pictures and several questions answered about themselves. Gators of the Month recognized students monthly for embodying the PBIS expectations of Gator GRRRS - Gators will be … Ready to Learn, Respectful, Responsible & Safe. Classes of the Quarter reflect how students work in their special classes – music, art, library, physical education and computer. These are awarded for both primary (K-2) and intermediate (3-5) grades and are determined by the classes that receive the highest average score on a four-point rubric.

Gracious Gators is a volunteer organization open to students and families that are interested in helping others in the community. Projects have included visiting residents at assisted living facilities, adopting families in need at the holidays, and volunteering at the animal shelters. The Back-Snack program is also a community partnership with Church of Harvest to provide food donations weekly for Green Springs families in need.

Enhanced Spotlight Recognition

Lakeside Elementary School - USD 250 - Pittsburg, Kansas

Dog House Project


For the past three years, Lakeside Elementary 5th graders and staff have been constructing dog houses that are donated to the local Humane Society. It began as a community service project after students and staff discussed possible projects that could benefit the community and selected this project. Not only does the project aid the Humane Society, but it also aligns with the 5th grade math standards and the SECD standards.

This is a four to five month project beginning with a student visit to the Humane Society to understand the impact and community need. Students then learn about measurement and scaled drawings, using actual-sized dog house measurements and then scaling the measurements down to make a small-scaled dog house out of foam board. They use the actual-sized measurements to measure and mark the cut lines on plywood. When the plywood has been cut and packed into kits, the students assemble the kits to construct the dog houses. Once built the students prepare design plan for the decorating theme. Painting comes next and the houses are finished once the shingles are attached.

Students are involved in evaluating their progress, including areas of cooperation, communication, critical thinking, creativity, and accuracy. They identify team goals and utilize a rubric to evaluate the final products. Students also write a summary of their project and the impact it has for the Humane Society and the community.

Students also get work with several community entities throughout the project. The Pittsburg High School drafting students assist with measuring and drawing lines on the plywood boards. The drafting students cut the boards and pack them into the kits. The Pittsburg State University Art Department helps students learn about spatial concepts, colors, and drawing and painting techniques during the decorating theme process. And the dog houses are put on display during the annual Pittsburg Art Walk where they are then auctioned off with the proceeds supporting the Humane Society. Last year the dog houses brought nearly $2,000.

Enhanced Spotlight Recognition

Lakeside Elementary School - USD 272 - Cawker City, Kansas

Building Stronger Relationship Focus

When Kayla Hamilton, the principal at Lakeside Elementary asked her students last year “How many adults at school do you feel like you can really tell them what is going on in your life?” she was astounded by the results. About 30% of her students felt there wasn’t anyone at school they could talk to. She knew then that they needed to do something different.

First, they implemented Morning Meetings from the Responsive Classroom. The Morning Meetings were structured to engage students with each other, to build character and social development and have four components: Greeting, Sharing, a Group Activity and a Morning Message. These classroom meetings occur four days a week during the first thirty minutes of the school day.

Whole School Wednesday, their second initiative, focused on fostering healthy relationships for students and staff. Twenty-one school “families” were created consisting of a staff member and on average six students ranging from three-year-old Preschool through 5th grade. All staff members have been included - including the custodian, cooks, paraprofessionals, nurse, aids, as well as teaching staff. “Families” meet each Wednesday mornings during the first thirty minutes of the day and students remain in their school family throughout their elementary years.

Three by Thursday was the last initiative implemented and focused on creating positive relationships with parents and students. Certified staff had the expectation to contact at least three guardians by Thursday to share something positive about their student.

The intentionality of these initiatives has paid off. Positive guardian school contacts and relationships have increased. Attendance at fall parent teacher conferences grew. And students are feeling more valued, understood, supported and connected to the adults and other students in the school building.

Enhanced Spotlight Recognition

Marias des Cygnes - USD 456 - Melvern, Kansas

Social-Emotional Learning Focus

Marais des Cygnes made a concentrated focus on their social-emotional structures. The district hired a licensed master level social worker to provide support for students and families and to be the point person on identifying district SEL strengths and weaknesses and develop a program to address the needs of the district.

To assess the needs of their students, they selected the SAEBRS screener to be administered for all Kindergarten through 12th grade students. Teachers completed the evaluation for each student twice and were scheduled for a third time when the academic year was disrupted by COVID-19. The data identified “Emotional Behavior” as the highest area of need for their students, including such things as adaptability to change, flexibility to rebound from setbacks, positive attitude, anxiety, sadness, fear, resilience and social isolation.

With this data, direct teaching of effective coping and self-regulation skills, along with ways to improve communication skills to increase positive social interactions and elevate esteem became the focus. Elementary students received concentrated lessons once a month with integration throughout the school day. Because 3rd grade had the highest number of students with concerns, 50%, they had targeted weekly lessons.

A referral system was also implemented to facilitate individual sessions with students in need. Weekly sessions were conducted with these students with a focus on family dynamics, coping skills, improved communication skills, and strengthening problem-solving skills. Parents were also contacted and provided with coaching and support.

Enhanced Spotlight Recognition

Olathe West High School - USD 233 - Olathe, Kansas

"Give a Hoot" Campaign

The “Give a Hoot” Campaign is an initiative to support service and social emotional and character development in the school community. “Give a Hoot” runs every year through the Advisory program, and the entire student body participates in various community service projects that are student-chosen and student-led. An inquiry-based learning process is used to develop student curiosity in projects and to investigate who they are helping and why it is important. This is the third year of this campaign and because of this some revisions and expansions were made.

One of their core projects is being reading buddies to first and second grade students from Prairie Central Elementary. This year they invited these first and second grade student to the recognition assembly. They were treated as guests of honor and some of the Prairie Central students were interviewed live by the Olathe West television crew. Students were also given the opportunity to meet and take pictures with Owen the Owl, the Olathe West mascot. The recognition assembly also featured 41 Action News Anchor, Christa Dubill, who emceed the assembly.

A new fundraising element was added this year with two Advisories generating funds for projects. Over $1,000 was raised from the community and an application process was put in place for project funds. They read applications and awarded money as a “prize patrol.” Some of the money went to projects like purchasing stocking stuffers for ill children and beginning the first-ever “Joggin for the Noggin” 5K run to support mental health. Projects have grown and students were much more invested.

Another Advisory paired with a family who has a son with a rare genetic disorder, GNAO1. They worked with the Bow Foundation which serves children with this rare condition. Through the students’ efforts the family received donations of gift cards, wipes, diapers, and handmade fleece ponchos. The family was featured in the assembly video.

Over 60 different projects were supported this year through the “Give a Hoot” Campaign. It is by far the favorite part of Advisory for most students. And the biggest takeaway for the students is that kindness and that positivity is contagious.

Enhanced Spotlight Recognition

Spring Valley Elementary School - USD 475 - Junction City, Kansas

"Every Child. Every Day. Whatever It Takes."

“Every Child. Every Day. Whatever It Takes.” This is the mission of Spring Valley Elementary School, and this year their consistent focus has been improving social, emotional, and character development through relationships.

Each morning is started with students and staff in the gymnasium for the Family Welcome. The Principal leads everyone in the school chant and reviews the life skill of the week. Announcements, birthdays, and awards are recognized. It ends with everyone standing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and the Wildcat Guidelines.

Newly added this year to the Family Welcome is High 5 Friday. On the first Friday of every month, a group from the Junction City community comes and stands in the hallway to give High 5s to the students as they head to their classrooms. Community groups have included Junction City High School ROTC, football, wrestling, basketball, and band, as well as the American Legion, the fire department and the police department.

Wildcat Packs started in spring 2019 and have continued this year. Each Pack includes a mixture of students from various grade levels and a staff member. They meet once a month and focus on greetings and interactive games. Each Pack chooses their own name and handshake.   

The first Tuesday of each month, the principal hosts a birthday lunch for all students who have a birthday that month. They all eat together in the library and have the opportunity to share and connect.

The Second Step and Sanford Harmony social-emotional curriculums continue to provide direct teaching of skills and each classroom has a break area with posters to help students identify feelings and self-regulation coping skills.

Enhanced Spotlight Recognition

Trail Ridge Middle School - USD 231 - Gardner, Kansas

Leader of the Family Program

Husky Families is a building-wide initiative that focuses on social and emotional learning, relationship building, and making deeper connections at school through enjoyable, safe and structured times. Once a month, and sometimes twice a month, the Husky Families meet and each family is a mix of students from different grade levels led by a teacher in the building. Every meeting consists of a character trait lesson, discussion, and connected activity. The lessons build upon skills students have worked on already in counseling lessons. Connected activities vary in learning styles and allow students to more personally connect with the learning objective.

Within these families, as well as a whole building, community service projects are supported. These projects include Pennies for Patients, Community Food Drive, Trunk or Treat for Children, and writing letters to soldiers serving overseas. They also had scheduled a school-wide send-off for their band instructor who is leaving for active military duty in Afghanistan.

Enhanced Spotlight Recognition

Whittier Elementary School - USD 465 - Winfield, Kansas

"One School, One Book" Project

The “One School, One Book” Project started in the fall of 2018. All families received a copy of the book “The Lemonade War” and family and school-wide activities were planned to promote literacy at home. In spring of 2019, “The One and Only Ivan” was distributed to every family along with a bookmark indicating a calendar of events and chapters to read each week. Fall 2019 brought “Frindle,” along with a Quiz Bowl type of assembly to kick off another semester of families reading together. And in spring 2020, the book of choice was “Stuart Little” and fashioned after the book and project, “Flat Stanley,” each classroom received a Flat Stuart and took pictures of Stuart doing activities all over town. The pictures were downloaded into a slide show and shared with students at lunch.

A kickoff assembly was held for each book and was based around the theme of the book. A special assembly was held to introduce the book and call each family to the front of the gym to receive their book. With the second book, “The One and Only Ivan,” a penny war was conducted that allowed students to bring pennies to jars located in their classrooms with the money going to the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, to support their gorilla exhibit. A total of $1,300 was raised. At the end of the school year, representatives from the Sedgwick County Zoo attended an all-school assembly to accept the donation, and they in return donated a collection of huge stuffed animals to the Whittier Library, posters for each classroom, and 24 passes to the zoo.

This project has brought four valuable pieces of literature to the households of students. They have provided the opportunity for families to spend quality time together and for students to increase their literacy skills.