Abraham Lincoln Elementary, in Belleville, is one of two schools in Illinois and about 70 nationwide named as a National School of Character by Character.org. The announcement officially came in as school was being dismissed on Monday afternoon.
“I’m gonna be biased, but it’s a well-deserved recognition,” said Matt Klosterman, superintendent of Belleville District 118. “It’s the icing on the cake for the process they went through the last few years.”
The 11 principles of character education are examined and explained in the application to achieve the state award, which Abraham Lincoln achieved in February. The national award is chosen from those state winners, after another interview process.
“The area I felt like we were really right in line with the State School of Character Application was the school’s core values, and everyone buying into those core values,” Principal Ed Langen said. “Those core values become the foundation for conversation and interactions that take place.”
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The school’s core values are kindness, honesty, problem solving, respect, responsibility and making everyone count.
Making everyone count comes in many forms at the school. Langen’s references to teachers, students and parents are so frequent they might all be considered one body within the school.
A pilot program that didn’t arise from the character application, but follows along its tenets, is the karate club that was suggested by the music teacher, Langen said. Band director Tony Dipasquale also has a black belt in karate and is teaching two classes of 30 students each after school twice a week.
“Tony (Dipasquale) approached us, but it absolutely fits into the 11 principles,” Langen said of the karate club. “One of them is that the school fosters students’ self-motivation, character including thinking feeling and doing.”
“The more we can offer that and can engage kids in positive and constructive ways, that’s a great quality. Absolutely.”
We want to bring in more families and community members as partners at Abraham Lincoln. That might look like more parent volunteers in the classroom, guest readers, business-school partnerships, or church-school partnerships.
Ed Langen, principal Abraham Lincoln Elementary
The buddies program — where the kindergarten classes pair up with third and sixth-graders, first-graders with fourth, and second with fifth — is one example of how the school promotes those values. Teachers said in February that pairing students helps the younger students model the behavior of the older ones, and the older students have someone to watch out for.
Principle 10 — the school engages families and community members as partners in the character-building effort — was an area for improvement, Langen said. The school has been addressing that, including with a meeting last week that he said was attended by more than 50 people.
“We want to bring in more families and community members as partners at Abraham Lincoln. That might look like more parent volunteers in the classroom, guest readers, business-school partnerships, or church-school partnerships,” Langen said.
Abraham Lincoln follows fellow District 118 schools Union Elementary, which earned the distinction last year, and Henry Raab, in 2012 and Jefferson in 2005.
Schools of character are those that, according to Character.org, have a dedicated focus on character development programs “that show positive impact on academic achievement, student behavior and school climate,” according to a news release. Character.org was previously called The Character Education Partnership.
The application to first become a state school of character is a months-long process of introspection. Klosterman called it an “intentional” process that is vigorous in its requirements.
“You go through the process to make yourself better,” Klosterman said. “You recognize and celebrate the things you already have in place, and then identify the areas where there is work to be done, and take the steps to do the work and make yourself better. I think Ed (Langen) will tell you everybody has played a role in this.”