How Does Halifax Middle School Know That Its Character Program is Successful?
Now that Halifax Middle School is in its tenth year of a character education initiative, it is strikingly apparent that students at Halifax Middle School are more willing to accept responsibility for their actions and more willing to hold their peers accountable also. Students are more considerate of others; they take responsibility for the school environment; and they have a positive rapport with their teachers.
In the past the principal would have had to spend several hours each day dealing with discipline referrals. Now there are days when no discipline referrals are even sent to his office. But when student behavior does need to be addressed, the principal no longer has to start at the beginning with a student to explain why good behavior or moral action is necessary. Through the Discovery Process (the name of their own character education program) students and staff develop a common language about moral actions with understood behavioral expectations. The principal can begin by asking students "Is this your best?" To date there has not yet been a student who has not hung his or her head and said, "No, it isn’t!" With students having this understanding, it takes far less time for them to recognize how they could have chosen differently to do what was right or good.
One of Halifax Middle School teachers (Mr. Osenbach) also commented: "There is a change in the way students respond to you when you do have to discipline them. They more quickly accept responsibility for their actions" (Interview, March 2001).
Vandalism in the school is almost non-existent. Prior to the Discovery process, Halifax Middle School had continual writing on restroom walls, doors, and partitions. Now the restroom walls are clean, and if a student writes on the wall, other students immediately reported the incident so that the school is able to track down the culprit and clean the wall. Now, whenever there is even litter in the restroom or something is out of order, students report it immediately.
There have been no drug incidents on school property during the past nine years except for three incidents of cigarette possession. There have been only two occurrences of students smoking in the middle school building during the past six years, and none during the past 3-½ years.
Another area of positive improvement has been the increased rapport between students and staff. Both students and staff are more caring and cooperative with one another. In fact, because the teachers act more as counselors and mentors during their Discovery activities, many students form extremely close allegiances with their Discovery teachers. As one teacher (Mrs. Boyer) stated "even after students have been in the high school for three years, they still come back to my Discovery group to talk with me and to meet the new students in the group. And they make a point to tell the new students that Discovery is important" (Personal Interview, March 2001).
Parents also recognize this positive student/teacher interaction. One parent (Mr. Rudy) stated, "There is increased rapport between students and teachers. There is one more significant adult in their lives that they can trust" (Personal Interview, March 2001).
As a consequence of these positive changes, the entire climate and culture of the middle school has changed. The behavior in the hallways and in the cafeteria has improved. In fact, for the past nine years students in the cafeteria do not rudely clap or cheer if another student accidentally drops a tray or has an accident. Rather, other students will pitch in to help clean up by getting napkins, or wet towels, or even a mop to clean up any mess.
A former substitute teacher (Mrs. Lentz) noted that she saw a change in the overall atmosphere in our school after we started our Discovery process. She stated, "When I was a substitute teacher, I noticed that there was a dramatic difference in the behavior of Halifax Middle School students – a positive difference – compared to the behavior of other students in the same grades at other schools where I substituted. Halifax Middle School students worked
more cooperatively with each other, and they seemed to take more responsibility for their actions." (Personal Interview, March 2001).
Another parent, (Mrs. Hess), also had this observation: "My daughter commented that the students are kinder to each other. They think of other’s feelings first (or how they would feel) before they say or do something to another person. They think before they act, and think of the consequences before doing or saying something." (Personal Interview, March 2001).
Student academic performance has also improved at Halifax Middle School. During the past five years the yearly student failure rate has averaged only one-percent of the student body. In addition, student scores have improved each year on the statewide assessment tests of reading and math. In fact, during the past two years that the state department of education has been measuring Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as required by the No Child Left Behind Act, the school has been recognized for achieving AYP. To achieve AYP during those years, 35% of students needed to score at the proficient level or above on the math assessment, and 45% of students needed to score at the proficient level or above on the reading assessment. Last year at Halifax Middle School 46% of students achieved at the proficient level or higher in math, and 86% of students scored at the proficient level or higher in reading.
Not only do the shareholders of Halifax Middle School recognize that the Discovery Process is working, but others outside of our hallways have also noticed. On October 16, 1999, school personnel were invited to make a presentation describing the character education process at the Pennsylvania State Education Association Education Conference held in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Also during the 1999 academic year, a neighboring school (Line Mountain Middle School) observed the program and solicited advice and guidance from Halifax school leaders in order to closely replicate the Halifax Middle School Discovery process in their school during the 2000-2001 school year. It was then in 2001 that Halifax Middle School was recognized as a National School of Character by the Character Education Partnership in
Washington, D.C. Since that time the school has shared its program with many other schools and presented its approach to Character Education at several conferences including the National Character Education Conference in St. Louis, Mo., and the National Middle School Conference in Portland, Oregon. The Discovery Process was the feature article in the spring edition of the 2002
Pro-Principal Newsletter, and Pennsylvania State Senator Allyson Schwartz recognized the Halifax program as she showcased the Halifax Character Education Discovery Process as a model to be replicated when she introduced her bill in the Pennsylvania Legislature to encourage and promote Character Education across the state. From 2002 to the present school leaders have worked closely with the Character-Plus Network in St. Louis, Missouri by presenting workshops at conferences sponsored by the Character-Plus Network and by advising schools in the St. Louis area concerning use of the Halifax school-wide approach to character education. Most recently, in March 2005, school leaders and teachers were invited by the Pennsylvania State Teachers Association to present a statewide videoconference of the Halifax Middle School Discovery Process.