Grant aims at building character

Young people need to develop a new mind-set, the superintendent said.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The city school district will use a 1.6 million federal grant to teach children how to be better citizens.
The Character Education Grant will fund the project for four years, and the initial focus will be in the district's middle schools, said Dr. Wendy Webb, superintendent.
But the effort will reach beyond just the schools.
Apathy is a big concern in this country, and the goal of this program is to encourage young people to take care of their home and their neighborhoods, not just their schools, Webb said.
It is designed to build participation and encourage involvement, fostering an attitude that will continue into adulthood, she said.
The district staff has gone through "Capturing Kids' Hearts" training, which focused on ways to get children involved in the classroom.
They'll now get training to show children how to be a good citizen and an active part of their community, Webb said.
"It's easy to say, 'Trust me', but how do you learn to build that trust?" she said. Character education can launch that process, she added.
Taking pride
The district's rebuilding program already has created a spark that can be developed, she said, pointing out that, as children are moved into new schools, they are openly talking about taking better care of their buildings, showing pride and concern about their new facilities.
That builds character, and children have to learn how to live it, take ownership and develop a new mind-set, Webb said. "We must live it as a community," she added.
The program extends the district's current efforts to reach out to parents and the community, said M. Mike McNair, supervisor of community relations and public information.
The school district is part of the community, and it is everyone's responsibility to teach respect and to obey the law as well as reinforce the principles of honesty and integrity, he said.
Webb said the children will be asked to take pledges to work for goals to improve the community, and they will expect adults, parent groups and other organizations in the community to do the same.
Teachers to be trained
Teachers will soon be getting staff development training on strategies, classroom activities and team-building projects that they can work into the curriculum. A couple of teachers will be selected as coaches to help with that process, Webb said. The first leadership training already has been completed.
The program is expected to start this spring and the district's Student Leadership Board, which has members in grades five through 12, will be heavily involved.
Peer-to-peer education will be a key component of the process, Webb said, pointing out, "The greatest influence among kids is their peers."
Although the program will be districtwide, the middle schools will get the most emphasis this school year, she said.
The student leaders also will do public service messages and make presentations at various public meetings.
In addition to teacher training, the grant will fund teen leadership training, field-trip expenses, curriculum development and strategy implementation.

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