Diana Rea, the Principal of DuQuoin Elementary School in DuQuoin Illinois, wasn’t expecting to walk out of her Saturday morning hair appointment with a new vision for the culture of her school. A chance sighting of an advertisement for Choose To Be Nice while flipping through Principal Magazine changed that! Now, two years later, the Choose To Be Nice program has taken off due to the overwhelming support and enthusiasm of the DuQuoin Elementary community. Each member of the community, from the school support staff to the families of the students at home, has embraced the Choose To Be Nice message, and worked to spread the common language of kindness.
Prior to implementing Choose To Be Nice, the 500 kindergarten through 4th grade students in DuQuoin Elementary had a structure of character goals in place, but the language was not common across grade levels. This created an experience that was fragmented and inconsistent. Through the use of the CTBN curriculum, a Google Drive, and the hard work of a dedicated staff, a school database was set up for educators to share and access lessons, creating the much needed common language. Collaboration and sharing of ideas became easy and stress free as resources were included and organized digitally by the nine Choose To Be Nice character traits.
Choose To Be Nice fits perfectly during the school’s weekly WIN, or What I Need, time.
During this time each week, teachers focus on what reading and math supports each individual student needs during that particular week. The Choose To Be Nice curriculum is woven into these lessons, as students are regrouped into the areas where they need support or extra stimulation. Educators easily slipped into a structured schedule of using the Introduction of each Character Trait in the CTBN curriculum book for the first week of the month, choosing from the suggested supplemental books for the second week, and accessing the shared resources and lessons of colleagues in the Google drive for the third and fourth weeks of the month.
As months progress, teachers can add their own ideas, lessons and suggestions to the Google Drive. In this way, the entire school has the consistency of a common monthly theme, but each educator can streamline the lessons to fit the needs of his or her individual students.
“Teachers love to base lessons from a text,” says Rea. “That’s how we teach! A good book is a jumping off point. The freedom to choose what books to use is why the Choose To Be Nice curriculum is so successful. It is easy, and it fits perfectly with how teachers teach.”
The lessons are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to DuQuoin Elementary’s involvement in Choose To Be Nice
Each month, the school focuses on one of the nine Choose To Be Nice character traits, which is introduced both in the school, and through a newsletter that is sent out to each family, filled with resources and activities for families to participate in at home. And, instead of simply telling everyone what the trait of the month is, Rea and the Dean of Students, Mr. Alvarado, introduce them in a far more FUN way!
Students have participated in many events that promote kindness in their school and beyond.
The CTBN banner hangs prominently in a well traveled hallway. Students take turns signing the banner at the beginning of each school year, promising to choose to be nice. The PTO has helped the children design shirts with the Choose To Be Nice message emblazoned on the front. In November students honored the veterans in their community with songs, poems, skits and cards to show their appreciation for the selfless service they have given to our country.
Setting a good example
Fourth graders at DuQuoin have the opportunity to be a part of the CTBN peer mentor club. These students can volunteer to work with Kindergarteners, leading games and STEM activities after their lunch period. Many of these students had such a wonderful time with the younger friends that they chose to skip their own recess time in order to stay and help out the little ones for a bit longer! “It was incredible to see the leadership skills emerge with these upper elementary students and the excitement from the younger students knowing they were going to have their 4th grade buddy in class that day!” says Rea. “My Dean of Students, Mr. Alvarado, led this program, initially beginning it to build additional reasons for students to have good attendance, purpose and feel important to the school environment.”
Recognition for their efforts
Each month, every classroom teacher at DuQuoin Elementary chooses two students who exemplify the character trait of the month. As the names of the nearly 80 honorees are read over the intercom, these students make their way to the cafeteria for a breakfast to celebrate their accomplishments. The school administrator creates certificates of recognition featuring photographs of the students, and cafeteria staff bakes special doughnuts for the guests of honor, which they are delighted to share with their visiting families, who are invited to take part in the festivities.
The Choose To Be Nice program has not only created a common language of kindness between grade levels at DuQuoin Elementary School. It has created a language that spans into where character begins – at home.