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‘Character Counts’ in Austin public schools

By Karen Colbenson

The Post-Bulletin

Academic and athletic skills aren’t the only things students will come out of Austin Public Schools with on their graduation day.

School officials hope they provide students with a foundation of what it takes to be a good citizen, by using a new character program called "Character Counts" that is being implemented in the K-12 curriculum beginning next year.

The curriculum and training for the program was acquired through a character education grant received from the Minnesota Department of Education. It focuses on the six pillars of character development:

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  • Trustworthiness
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Fairness
  • Caring
  • Citizenship

The traits are presented as a counterbalance to negative influences children encounter, such as bullying, conflict resolution, drugs, tobacco, alcohol, gang violence and dropping out of school.
Integrated into sports

According to Superintendent Candace Raskin, the curriculum will have a sports component as well, and coaches will be provided with training on how to use the program in athletics.

"It really is about having that common vocabulary about what are the characteristics that create good people," Raskin said. "Every day there is bullying, conflict, and there are things on television."

The program would be more comprehensive at the elementary level, with lessons and assemblies held throughout the year, said Raskin.

"With most character programs, it is incorporated in how you talk with kids, how you work with kids using that same vocabulary," Raskin said.

Program kickoff

A kick-off for the program was held this week for elementary students in order to familiarize them with the concept of character development. A lively show that features an interactive educational format focusing on the six pillars of character was held at each elementary school.

Neveln Elementary School Principal Jean McDermott commended the show, saying it provided good, real-life examples to the students.

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"The kids were totally entranced," she said. "They were presented with situations they have seen and situations they have been in."

Raskin said teachers are currently training on how to effectively use the program.

Primary Focus is a nonprofit organization comprising five teams of eight college-aged adults who present the character-based principles to children.

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