Jefferson City Academic Center and Southwest Early Childhood Education Center were recently announced as recipients of national character education awards.
The two schools received Promising Practice awards from the Character.org association in Washington, D.C., which gives the awards annually to recipients "recognized for establishing innovative best practices in the area of character education," according to a news release from Jefferson City Public Schools.
This isn't the first time JCAC and Southwest have received National School of Character recognition.
Lisa Dierking, a social worker at Southwest, said the "Staff School Family Jobs" and lending library programs the school was recognized for this year are the 16th and 17th Promising Practice programs that have received such status.
Southwest Principal Nicole Langston explained promising practice programs are long-term commitments.
"We started the lending library probably about three years ago, but it's really been going strong for two years," Langston said.
The lending library serves at-risk preschool students who otherwise wouldn't have access to high-quality books.
"They're very specific to those emergent literacy skills that kids are learning," Langston said of the books from Pioneer Valley Books that were recommended after Southwest consulted with district literacy leaders.
"Many parents in the beginning were worried about their own literacy skills," she said, but added the books are the kind that give confidence to parents to be able to guide their children in reading.
She also cited partnerships with Scholastic and the Missouri Department of Corrections' Restorative Justice program helped make the lending library possible — Scholastic for more books and Restorative Justice for giving people who are incarcerated for long sentences a chance to give back to the community by sewing together the bags Scholastic fills with books.
"Every child has a job," Dierking said of the policy at Southwest that students serve in positions such as line leaders, door holders and snack helpers. She explained those roles were mirrored for the adult staff for the "Staff School Family Jobs" program.
"We felt like we should be doing that, too, as a team here. The more we give to others, the stronger we make that skill in us," Langston said, adding staff wants to serve as role models for their students.
"We can't ask our children here to have jobs and carry them through if we're not doing that ourselves," she said.
Dierking said the program has created a bolstered sense of unity among staff by giving people a sense of ownership over their work. Every year, teachers will get to continue their chosen task or elect to do something else — tasks such as keeping signs up in the hallway, cleaning the lounge or keeping time at meetings, she said.
"Once people start doing the things that they love, they're happier," Langston said.
JCAC's "Dealing a Winning Hand" program for middle school students engages students during structured breaks in class to help them build relationships and social skills.
"(Students) learn how to cope with anger or frustration in classrooms" by being taught strategies and skills, JCAC Principal Deanne Fisher said.
She said JCAC has about 15 middle school students, who attend because of behavioral issues they need to work through before they rejoin their peers at Lewis and Clark or Thomas Jefferson middle schools.
High school students can opt to attend JCAC instead of at JCHS in order to receive additional resources they need to succeed in school.
The "This I Believe" student essay in English II classes is a reflective piece, "kind of their belief statements, the things that they know they need to do deep down to make them a better person," Fisher said. The assignments involve research and setting specific goals.
Students begin by completing a self-assessment of their values that involves an "auction" to see how much students prioritize their values and how much they'd be willing to "bid" on each of them, according to an explanation of the assignment from JCAC English teacher Kim Sellers.
"The purpose of the essay is to examine a belief (or) value that they feel strongly about. While the idea for the essay must be personal, the reader should be able to find connections between his (or) her experiences and the writers," Sellers said.
"Part of the writing process includes examining the experiences of other people by reading and listening to short essays (available online), thinking critically about what makes a strong essay and developing a list of criteria to apply their own work, synthesizing what they have learned by writing, revising and recording their essays and showing awareness of audience and purpose," Sellers said.
JCAC and Southwest will showcase their programs and be recognized for their work at the annual Character.org National Forum on Character Education in October in Washington, D.C., according to the JCPS news release.