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10:52 AM Mon, Sept. 24th

Fairness, respect, responsibility, caring, trustworthiness and citizenship <BR><font size="2">Character does count, as students learn in PUSD program</font>

PRESCOTT – Even though they were acting, students at Granite Mountain Middle School were learning about real-life fairness.

As part of the Prescott Unified School District's Character Counts program, students at GMMS have bi-weekly classes in character building, during which they learn about the six pillars of character – fairness, respect, responsibility, caring, trustworthiness and citizenship.

Character Counts is a nationwide education framework that PUSD has used for several years. In fact, the PUSD Governing Board has made character education a district goal for the past couple of years.

This year, a group of 13 parent volunteers began teaching Character Counts to GMMS students.

Karen Smith, GMMS volunteer coordinator, said this past Thursday that the key to character education "is to make it cool."

Her goal, she said, "is to make it fun and engaging for the kids."

In February, Smith said, GMMS students, teachers, staff and parents came together to exercise their global responsibility by raising money to help tsunami victims through the organization Action Against Hunger. Students paid to watch cartoons, play games and eat ice cream and baked goods.

Jenny Phelps, a mother and Character Counts volunteer, had several members in her class of seventh-graders perform a play about fairness.

In the play, students played the parts of students whose parents and teachers had decided without asking their opinion to enforce a uniform policy at the school. The students felt that the decision was unfair and they should have had some say about such a policy at their school.

Although the characters originally had some pre-conceived opinions about uniforms, they took some time to share different ideas, and eventually agreed that uniforms may not be all bad.

Before the play started, a couple of students took some time to talk about character and about Character Counts.

Scott Lemon said he believes the most important pillar is respect.

"You can get far in life by being respectful to others," he said.

He later added, "all the pillars, you want to live by them and do what they say because you can get really far in life if you do those."

Amanda Cunningham said fairness means "not cheating on tests and stuff."

"You can lose a lot of friends for cheating," she said. "And you can get in trouble."

As a fairness-related activity, she said, students had to make up a game and prove why it was fair.

So far, the students have played games, performed plays and created projects as part of Character Counts.

"You guys are going to be dealing with this a lot with your friends and family," Phelps told the students after the play. "Always get two sides to every story and know all the facts before you make a decision."

PUSD this year created a Character Education Committee to carry out the board's goal of character education. The committee's sub-goals include character counts for students, developing parent resources and creating community collaboration.

Joe Howard, Prescott Mile High Middle School principal and chairman of the committee, explained during a February "media morning" that the committee has various ideas to implement those sub-goals.

The ideas include character-related training, assemblies, sports programs and resources. Also, the committee would like to link PUSD's Character Counts page on the Internet to various community Web sites.

"Character," Scott said, "is not being rude and it's living by the rules and by the law."

Contact the reporter at heller@prescottaz.com