Illinois principal Cynthia Tolbert will do just about anything to get her students at Alhambra Primary and Grantfork Elementary schools to understand what it means to have good character and live a healthy lifestyle.
In the first year of the schools’ “Crusin’ with Character” program, she took a pie in the face. The next, Tolbert dyed her long hair crazy colors, the Belleville News-Democrat reports.
“I will do anything I can to help motivate them and keep them from being on screens too much,” Tolbert told the news site.
Each year, students at both of the Highland School District elementary schools participate in the unique program designed to promote good character, health and wellness through numerous activities, an event capped with a call to “Take the Challenge.”
The challenge involves a five-week course that focuses on how the amount of time students spend watching TV, on computers, playing video games, and using other electronic devices can impact their health, as well as healthier alternatives. Students face a challenge in the final week to go a full five days with no screen time. “Some kids like it. Some kids hate it. But they do get super excited to do the challenge,” Tolbert said.
Teachers and students track their progress throughout the challenge and the classroom that best meets the challenge wins the opportunity to get whacky with Tolbert. Last year, students who won got to Duct tape her to a wall. This year, they covered her with silly string. “I like to do something different each year, just to keep the momentum going with the kiddos,” Tolbert said.
Other “Crusin’ with Character” programs involve a Mini Marathon to get students moving. Over 13 weeks, students walk during recess to accumulate 26.2 miles, then meet up at Alhambra Primary School in May to run the final mile together and celebrate. Other programs involve “Penny Wars” – a change collection drive – to raise money for area charities. This year, students raised $734 for a 10-year-old cancer patient through Leaps of Love, a charity fighting childhood cancer.
“We’re just trying to get kids to be active and think about wellness and doing things for others,” Tolbert told the News-Democrat.
The good intentions of these educators are laudable—particularly Cynthia Tolbert. The culture of the school is being addressed in multiple manners. Researchers at The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture are cautious, however about the long term benefits of such programs and in The Tragedy of Moral Education in America, the following is concluded: “What is shown by the available studies is that some of the more general character education programs helped create more positive moral sensibilities in the short term, but over the long term the children in these program did not act differently from those who did not go through them. Programs that used exhortation, pledges, and rewards and punishments had almost no effect at all.” They suggest that the long-term benefits of these efforts be closely monitored.
Teachers and principals wanting to strengthen character education in their school will find useful information and strategies at the UK’s The Jubilee Centre.