Seth D. Brown, 11, has been in about as many scraps as most fellows his age. Time was when he would take on anyone who wanted to start a fight with him. But times have changed. These days, Seth, a fifth-grader at John C. Fremont Elementary School in Glendale, says he walks away from confrontations.
Alicen J. Erdos says she used to eagerly follow her girlfriends around as they got into all kinds of mischief. Now the 11-year-old Fremont student says she would rather be safe than sorry. More often than not, she refuses to get involved in troublesome activities.
Seth and Alicen are two of hundreds of students who are learning to think before they act through a character-building program that is being taught at 12 of the 19 elementary schools in the Glendale Unified School District.
"It gives me a line to follow. It has taught me how to handle problems, that walking away is easier than fighting," Seth said.
Program to Expand
The Character Education Curriculum program started in 1984 at six Glendale schools. It was expanded this year, and district officials say it has been so successful that next year it will be spread to all elementary schools.
"Almost every day children have problems in the play yard, such as fights and arguments. Now we've given them a tool to use that teaches them how to resolve these situations without fighting," said Lynda C. Noonan, who teaches first and second grade at John Marshall Elementary School.
The program is produced and sold to school districts by the Thomas Jefferson Research Center in Pasadena, a nonprofit agency that develops supplemental educational programs. Glendale teachers, after a half day of in-service training, teach the curriculum.
Through a series of stories with questions and discussion periods, the program teaches students about responsibility, honesty, self-respect, morals and good judgment.
Some may consider such value indoctrination the responsibility of parents. But Frank Goble, the research center's founder, says an increase in juvenile crime, drug abuse and other problems means that schools must get more involved in character building.
"Historically, schools have always made character building a priority. It had diminished since about 1920, but now it is returning," Goble said.
The program was developed in 1970 and is taught in about 800 schools, center officials say. Schools in 30 California districts use the program. The principles and problems taught in the curriculum get more complex as the students move from kindergarten through sixth grade.
The Character Building Curriculum started in the Glendale district last year with the help of $25,000 raised by corporations, individuals and civic groups. Raymond D. Edwards, chairman of the board of Glendale Federal Savings & Loan, led the fund-raising drive.
The money was spent on materials for the program, which include a learning kit for classrooms. Posters, student work sheets and lesson plans are included in the kit.
15 to 20 Minutes a Day
The lesson plan calls for the primary teachers to use the program 15 to 20 minutes a day. Not all schools administer the curriculum that way. At Fremont, for example, teacher Deborah Jo Gruener spends 15 minutes each Monday morning on the program. Not all classes participate.
The students still have some discipline problems but the program is having an effect, she said.
"This is a building process. Some children still handle problems with verbal or physical abuse, but this makes them think instead of just react," Gruener said.
At Marshall, the program is taught every day in every class. There, especially in the younger classes, the focus is on kindness and individuality.
For example, Preston Chavez, 6, was told to draw a picture to show that he is special. Preston drew a picture of himself chasing a big ball through a field.
"I can play ball better than my dad and some other kids, so that means I'm special," the first-grader said.
The 28 students in Room 12 at Marshall are learning how to appreciate differences. They also are learning to correct misbehavior in a positive manner.
At times, the students are allowed to act out a bad scene and then show how to solve the disturbance. For example, the students line up as if they are headed for the playground. Someone at the end of the line shoves the person in front of them. Then, like a line of falling dominoes, the students pitch forward.
One student turns around and says, "Would you please stop pushing." This, theoretically, ends the problem.
Teachers don't say it will always work, but they do say that at least they have provided positive examples for students to follow when problems happen.
Good Deeds Recounted
Downstairs in Room 16, about 30 students were gathered on a rug listening to teacher Kathy A. Malcolm.
"Tell me some of the kind things that you did this weekend," said Malcolm.