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2021 State Schools of Character Recognition - Virtual Ceremony

State 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.

Kansas State School of Character

Stockton Grade 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 Kansas SECD Standards and the school or district KESA goals, the Redesign Principles, or a combination of the above. 

Barber County North School District - USD 254 - Medicine Lodge, Kansas

Bickerdyke Elementary School - USD 407 - Russell, 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 Kansas SECD Standards strands and support one or more of the KESA 5R’s, the Redesign Principles, or both.  

Barber County North School District - USD 254 - Medicine Lodge, Kansas

Bickerdyke Elementary School - USD 407 - Russell, Kansas

Hesston Middle School - USD 460 - Hesston, Kansas

Kennedy Primary, McKinley Intermediate & Eisenhower Elementary - USD 435 - Abilene, Kansas

Lakeside Elementary School - USD 272 - Cawker City, Kansas

Meade Elementary/Junior High School - USD 226 - Meade, Kansas

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


Kansas State School of Character

Stockton Grade School - USD 271 - Stockton, Kansas

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Stockton Grade School is one of the original Mercury 7 Redesign schools; and Social, Emotional, and Character Development has been one of its key initiatives. The Tiger Touchstones - Confidence, Creativity, Honesty, Integrity, Responsibility, and Respect - were voted on by students, staff, and community stakeholders in 2015. The Touchstones now guide professional decision making; and are integrated into classroom and building structures, including student and staff norms and expectations. The Touchstones are evident in goal areas and the school mantra and vision statement; are visible in the handbook, hallways and website; and are understood by parents and community members.

The staff mantra is - “You are safe. You are loved. You have people.” - and the vision statement is “We are TIGER Ready!” In order to help students and staff 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. Zones of Regulation has been implemented and has had a significant effect on students being able to name emotions, to take a break before behaviors happen, and to find coping skills. For example, one of the second-grade classrooms uses a mental health check-in as a daily routine.  

With COVID-19, the peace corners had to be temporarily dismantled. Because of this, as well as some students learning remotely, a virtual calming room was created. This virtual calming room can be used at any time of night or day, in school or at home. The regulation room is still available at school, and students can use it 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 through journal writing and gratitude prompts. Reflection is also part of their behavior model by asking questions about what the student could do differently 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. This has created a natural flow for teachers to integrate self-regulation into their daily academic lessons. 

Each classroom is driven by student discussion, a student-developed code of conduct, debate, and student-led lessons. The fifth-grade class spends the first few days of school creating a list of rules and expectations, narrowing that list to four. They then put those rules on a poster that is signed by each member of the classroom. Sports teams are also expected to create a code of ethics, and each player is then expected to adhere to that code.

Fans are also expected to adhere to the Tiger Touchstones. Significant efforts have been made to educate fans on these expectations, and administration will redirect fans, students, and players when necessary. One parent who became upset at an official’s call during a volleyball game this fall, stood up, refrained from yelling, and turned to the principal and said, “Mrs. Green, I almost lost a Touchstone!”

As a way to build relationships, Community Groups were started in spring 2018 and meet one day a week for 30 minutes with kindergarten through fifth grade. Because of the positive student and community response, these groups were expanded to include preschool and sixth and seventh grades in the fall of 2019. 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, and Christmas and end-of-the-year celebrations. When COVID-19 restricted the meeting times for these groups, both students and teachers reported how much they missed the connection.

Outside of Community Groups, students at Stockton Grade School do a mixture of community and service learning. The third graders recognized the low numbers of staff because of quarantine in the first part of the year and decided that they could help out more. They took on trash duty after lunch to save the custodian some time. Junior High and High School students collaborated to create “Pride Day,” a day devoted to students working in the community. The Veterans Program was a whole-district effort: K-3 sang; grades 4-5 spoke about the United States flag; grades 6-7 interviewed veterans and created a movie; the Junior High and High School bands performed; and the local quilting club donated 11 quilts.

Students also engage in project-based learning - where students are able to align learning with their passions - building internal motivation. Small-group, center-based, and individual instruction have increased; and students have choice boards and playlists for voice and choice.

Community and parent involvement have been essential, and a significant effort has been made to engage families and the community in a variety of ways. New family orientation, use of social media platforms, monthly Redesign meetings, quarterly Ed-Camp meetings, Foster Grandparents, and community and business member volunteer opportunities allows for a variety of occasions for connection and input.

These programs, initiatives, curriculums, and changes have not just happened because someone thought they sounded good. Data are used to guide every decision and data are shared with all stakeholders. “Pivot when change is needed,” and, “Context before content,” are the two unofficial mantras.

Shifting School Culture Recognition

Barber County North School District - USD 254 - Medicine Lodge, Kansas

Core Essentials Curriculum

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“Expect Excellence (E2) every student, every day, preparing for the future,” is the district mission statement for USD 254 Barber County North. In order to meet the Social Emotional needs of students and to further prepare their students for the future, the Core Essentials curriculum was implemented district-wide. This curriculum is based on three main values, called the “Big 3”: make smart decisions, treat others right, and maximize our potential. These three core values provide a common language for the entire district and equip students, staff and families to “Say It, Know It, See It, and Be it.”

Each month, videos, lessons, and activities center around a “core essential” value word and its accompanying definition or application. For example, the value word for the month of May is “Commitment” – making a plan and putting it into practice. Each value word always points back to one of the “Big 3.” The “core essentials” are 30 value words that are rotated every three years.   

The pre-k curriculum uses a discovery method to teach the “Big 3.” The elementary curriculum is based on the monthly value word and involves everyone in the school in a small way. At the Junior High and High School levels, Core Essentials is student-driven and is embedded in other academic areas such as art, graphic design, media classes, and FFA/Agriculture. 

Improvements have been seen in student data since the implementation of Core Essentials. Students feel more involved in decisions about class activities and rules, students are enjoying school more, and electronic bullying has decreased.

Bickerdyke Elementary School - USD 407 - Russell, Kansas

Morning Meeting Program

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Morning meetings began out of necessity at Bickerdyke Elementary because of a decline in student emotional regulation skills. Three teachers and the principal visited another Kansas elementary building to observe how to conduct a morning meeting and were introduced to Zones of Regulation. Upon returning, these three teachers piloted the morning meetings and Zones of Regulation program for the remainder of the school year.

During this pilot, other teachers began to see the effect of how having that set time to gather, share experiences, and identify emotions was making a positive impact on student skills and classroom culture. Now, all Bickerdyke classrooms have morning meetings. Each classroom meeting looks a little different, but they all have the staples of a Zones check-in, a review of the Boys Town skill of the week, and an opportunity to build relationships with their teacher and peers.

Even with COVID-19 restrictions, morning meetings have continued because of their positive impact. The one major change was the addition of breakfast to the morning meeting and an extension to 30 minutes for the initiative.

Since the implementation of morning meetings, office referrals have been cut in half, there is a greater sense of community, and a common emotional language has been built. Staff are also more aware and receptive to student struggles outside the building and students are more understanding of their peers.

Enhanced Spotlight Recognition

Barber County North School District - USD 254 - Medicine Lodge, Kansas

Student Ambassador Program

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“Expect Excellence (E2) every student, every day, preparing for the future,” is the district mission statement for USD 254 Barber County North. In order to meet the social-emotional needs of students and further prepare them for the future, the Core Essentials curriculum was implemented district-wide. The curriculum is based on three main values, called the “Big 3”: make smart decisions, treat others right, and maximize our potential. The Junior High students spend 20 minutes per day on Core Essential values and the High School spends 20 minutes per week. The curriculum is also embedded in other academic areas such as art, graphic design, media classes, and FFA/Agriculture. 

At the Junior High and High School levels, Core Essentials is student-driven, and this year a Student Ambassador Program was added to lead it. There are six Junior High representatives and 15 High School representatives. The Student Ambassadors meet at least once per month with the assistant principal, and they also meet periodically as small groups. Each month, a Junior High and a High School representative oversee the character trait of the month curriculum implementation. Every morning, a Core Essential thought of the day is announced by the principal and electronic bulletin boards are produced by the Ambassadors for display on the TV monitors. This spring, the Ambassador team will lead character education at the high school with a “Glimpse” media presentation each week during advisory program.  

Bickerdyke Elementary School - USD 407 - Russell, Kansas

“CREW” Groups

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“CREW” - or family groups - were started in 2019-2020 to build community and school culture. Staff identified that there was a lack of opportunities for students to interact with other grades and that the building design physically isolated classes and teachers from each other. This didn’t allow for older students to exhibit leadership skills to younger students, and younger students did not get the opportunity to build relationships with teachers from the upper grades.  

“CREW” groups were created by placing 8-10 students randomly with a teacher. Attention was given to have students from all grade levels in each group. Students remain in the same group throughout their time at Bickerdyke with incoming second-grade students taking the place of outgoing fifth-grade students. 

A surprise kick-off ceremony was held where students and adults were announced for each group. Groups then decided on a name, flag and (for some) a handshake. "CREW"s met biweekly for 40 minutes, and lessons focused on character and social skills. Service learning and community service activities were completed. In addition, groups had the freedom to go their own way and focus on skills and topics that interested them.

“CREW”s did not met in 2020-2021 because of COVID-19 restrictions but will be continued when it is safe to do so.

Hesston Middle School - USD 460 - Hesston, Kansas

Project Me Initiative

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Project Me is a new initiative at Hesston Middle School that supports all students in becoming the very best they can be through the lens of leadership and reflection. It starts with a self-reflection in fifth grade and results in an exposition of personal skills learned and proficiencies gained by the end of eighth grade, so those eighth-grade students have had many opportunities to learn about themselves before they move into high school.

Fifth-grade students are given opportunities to reflect on their Swather Habits of Character & Scholarship (SHoCS). These include student outcomes such as: communicate effectively, give best effort, and take responsibility for actions. Data are collected and analyzed, and then students set goals with the idea of growth over their four years at middle school. Discussions on growth and goal-setting continues in sixth grade, and students also receive advisory lessons ranging from respect to kindness to healthy choices and service.

Seventh-grade students are trained in leadership with the understanding that they will have a fifth-grade buddy as an eighth-grade student. Students also reflect on individual skills and strengths and are challenged to provide evidence of these skills during leadership interviews with community members.

During eighth grade, students are presented “Leadership Lectures” by business or community members once per month. Students continue to research interests and skills, as well as career cluster matches for postsecondary vision. Students work through a budget simulation, a “Skill Shadow” day, and a high ropes course challenge. The project closes when each student presents “Project Me” - a reflection of themselves and what they have learned. A panel of community members will be present to ask students follow-up questions, and teachers and classmates will attend the presentations as well.  

Kennedy Primary, McKinley Intermediate & Eisenhower Elementary - USD 435 - Abilene, Kansas

Mindful Mornings Initiative

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Following the abrupt end of school in March 2020 and the challenges predicted for 2020-2021 school year, the principals of Kennedy Primary, McKinley Intermediate, and Eisenhower Elementary schools asked the three school counselors to develop classroom-ready mini-lessons teachers could implement in their rooms. The lessons were to address the Social, Emotional, and Character Development standards and foster a sense of safety, community, and acceptance in each classroom.

The initiative became known as Mindful Mornings and was implemented during the first 15-20 minutes of the day by teachers in every kindergarten through fifth-grade classroom. Lessons took the form of activities, role plays, videos, bibliotherapy, journaling, and teambuilding exercises. Lessons were tailored to the character development and social-emotional level of students, but the content was consistent across the buildings and focused on: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Responsible Decision-Making, Social Awareness, and Interpersonal Skills. The lessons were uploaded onto Canvas and SeeSaw to ensure that remote students had access to the lessons as well.

Teachers reported a greater sense of calm, kindness, and introspection in their classrooms; and there were numerous instances of teachers referring students to the counselor, based on issues brought to light from a Mindful Morning activity.  

Lakeside Elementary School - USD 272 - Cawker City, Kansas

Zones of Regulation & Whole School Wednesday Initiatives

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The Education team at Lakeside Elementary identified the need to use common language when working with students in the area of Social Emotional Learning (SEL), as well as the need to expand the self-regulation toolbox of strategies for students beyond the typical “take a breath and walk away.” After researching different options, they adopted the Zones of Regulation curriculum. 

They decided to use their Whole School Wednesday platform as an avenue for teaching the curriculum. Whole School Wednesday takes place each Wednesday morning during the first 30 minutes of the day and brings students together with faculty in 21 mixed-age school “families.” By using this structure, all of their students and staff were hearing the same lesson, the same language, and the same regulation strategies.

The implementation of this curriculum has allowed for a common language and a way for staff to help students not only identify what zone they are in, but what regulation strategy to apply. This will be expanded next year by integrating Zones into their morning meetings.

Meade Elementary/Junior High School - USD 226 - Meade, Kansas

Social, Emotional, and Character Development Focus

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Meade began its Social, Emotional, and Character Development focus in 2018 and has continued to improve and enhance the initiative each year. This focus was initiated because of the ever-increasing social and emotional needs of its students. More and more behavioral referrals were being seen and at younger ages.

The implementation of the Second Steps curriculum with pre-k through sixth grades offered that much-needed core classroom curriculum and opportunities to practice skills throughout the week. School employees then added seventh and eighth grade Second Steps curriculum and have enhanced all of the curricular pieces with the implementation of Zones of Regulation.

CHAMPS has provided a building-wide behavior model and structures. Calming Corners and tiered interventions for Social, Emotional, and Character Development skills have enhanced their building structures and have provided needed interventions.  

Students are beginning to connect the Second Steps lessons inside and outside the classroom. These structures have also provided a common language and strategies for students and staff. Feedback from parents has been positive, as they are seeing their students apply these skills at home as well.

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

First Friday Fun Initiative

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“Every Child. Every Day. Whatever It Takes.” is the mission of Spring Valley Elementary School, and this year it took on an even more important focus.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, parents were not able to visit the building. So on the first day of school, Abby Allen, the instructional coach, went to each classroom and took first-day-of-school pictures of each student with their teacher. Students enter the building through designated doors, and an adult greets each student by name each day. The Family Welcome is usually held in the gym and is led by the Principal. It includes the school chant, life-skill word, birthdays, Pledge of Allegiance, and Wildcat Guidelines, and has been held via Zoom.

These changes and many more have required more staff time and adjustments to new routines. Any time there is change it can bring stress and anxiety for students, families, and staff. Knowing staff would be constantly challenged throughout the year, First Friday Fun was started. On the first Friday of each month, there is a fun theme accompanied with a treat related to the theme. Themes have included caffeine and candy; McAlister’s tea, donuts and hot chocolate; holiday sugar cookies; and smoothies. Although this may seem like a fairly simple thing, it has been a boost for staff and they have come to look forward to it each month.