Iola High School has another banner to tack onto its walls: it’s a 2012 National Award Winner for Promising Practice in Character Education.
The award, given by the Character Education Partnership, reflects the work not only the staff put into building a more caring environment but the students as well, school officials said.
Since 2010 Iola High School has received four character awards.
The high school offers a leadership class as an elective, taught by Regina Chriestenson where students learn skills that will help them in school and beyond.
“Character education is finding out what it takes to have character,” Chriestenson said. “It gives students ownership over their behavior.”
They also learn to be “good citizens,” Chriestenson said.
During the holidays students host a kindergarten banquet where young kids are able to interact with high school students.
They also have a day where third-graders, after their state assessment tests, can be high school students for a day.
“It is directed by the leadership students; it’s not teachers giving the students a tour around the school,” IHS Principal Stacey Fager said.
One of the major challenges for incoming freshman and transfer students is fitting in. Roughly five years ago a link program was created where high school juniors and seniors apply to serve as mentors to incoming freshman.
At the beginning of the year link leaders, after a 10-hour training session the prior week, spend the morning with freshman, helping them become comfortable with their new environment.
“The more comfortable they are, the more likely they are to succeed and graduate,” Chriestenson said.
Since last year, the program’s benefits could really be seen because freshman who benefited from the program four years ago are now seniors and giving back by applying to be link leaders.
“(All the programs) give the school a much more inviting atmosphere,” Fager said.
This year administrators are trying to do more. They have added a new program, Power 2 Achieve, to their curriculum, which was bought through a state Safe and Supportive School (S3) grant.
Through the program students learn about better communication, bullying, respect and responsibility.
Twice a month during seminar class, students are taught about character topics and they have recently adopted a teaching tool where they choose a character word.
For example, the word “pride” is an acronym for “punctuality, respect, integrity, diligence and excellence.”
The character word is on display throughout the school and teachers encourage their students to follow the message of the character word.
“By and large it has been a positive effect on the students,” Fager said.
AT THE Sept. 28 “See, Hear Iola!” program, Stacey Fager spoke about the progress and acheivements the leadership class has gained.
That caught the attention of Jeff Livingston, Iola’s Walmart manager, who offered to donate $1,000 to the class.