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School Spells Out a Curriculum of Respect and Values

Education: Focusing on seven elements of character development, Emperor Elementary is working to turn out better students--and better citizens.


Emperor Elementary School is different from most others. Teachers at the Temple City campus rarely raise their voices in frustration. Children queue up silently after recess, with hardly a word from their instructors. Administrators settle squabbles between children by admonishing them to remember the school's code of conduct: Treat everyone with respect.

On the playground, many older students volunteer to play with the youngest ones. They also help them with their homework and wait with the kindergartners and first-graders until their parents pick them up after school.

This cooperative and nurturing environment is the work of Principal Kathy Perini and her staff, who are teaching students to become better citizens and better students through a program called "Values in Action."

Using art classes, storytelling and a mentor program in which the oldest students help the youngest, teachers hope to help them become more responsible and better able to handle adversity.

"We just believed as a school that there are two things that are important: academics and teaching [students] to be good citizens," Perini said.

The school's curriculum is based on a book by Gene Bedley, a retired principal. The program educates students about seven values: respect, integrity, compassion, fortitude, responsibility, resilience and cooperation.

The Emperor program focuses on a single value for an entire school year, weaving the theme into different classroom lessons such as essay writing or art projects.


This school year, students are focusing on responsibility. Each week, a different theme is introduced based on such topics as "I am responsible for being thankful" for Thanksgiving, or "I am responsible for taking care of my body."

The mentor system pairs fifth- and sixth-grade students with kindergartners and first-graders as a way to help the younger children with their school work and give the older ones a sense of responsibility.

Last fall, in recognition of the school's efforts, Perini was awarded the national Valley Forge Teacher's Medal. The award is given annually by the Freedoms Foundation, an organization founded by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1946 to recognize programs that foster citizenship values.

Perini, who has been principal at Emperor for three years, started the program last year, modeling it after one Bedley started at El Camino Real Elementary School in Irvine. She said she and other officials felt that creating a curriculum to promote character development would add a dimension to the students' education and give them values that would serve them in adulthood.

The school's staff was trained by Bedley, whom Perini contacted for advice. Bedley had recently finished writing his book, also titled "Values in Action," detailing his ideas about "character education."

"Even though we live in a world that doesn't give respect, we teach [youths] to give it," Bedley said. He started the program out of his belief that the "values-neutral" education provided by most schools fails to help children interact with others and deal with the real-world dilemmas they encounter.

"The worst thing we can do is have kids guess what we expect of them," Bedley said.

Emperor became the first school after El Camino Real to adopt the program.

Perini and her staff developed a seven-rule code of conduct, which is incorporated in a mural on the school's front wall painted by a Pasadena City College student who attended Emperor. The rules are simply worded: "I will respect others' rights," says one. "I will be a responsible person," goes another.

The state Department of Education has endorsed the school's efforts. Department spokeswoman Susan Lang said that although the state bars instruction on "personal values," such as whether to go to church or discussion about abortion, it encourages teaching values that are necessary in a democracy, such as honesty and respect.


Teachers and administrators said the program has improved the school's atmosphere, noting that discipline problems have decreased, attendance has risen and students seem more engaged in their education.

"Happy kids tend to get good results," Perini said.

Jaimi Harrison, who has two children at Emperor and is president of the PTA, said the school is reinforcing ideas she teaches at home.

Emperor's students, particularly the older ones, said they appreciate the school's efforts. Some give up their recess once a week to help correct papers and watch over the youngest children, while others serve as mentors and playmates.

Said fifth-grader Tinna Yoong, 11: "You get to feel like you're helping somebody."

The Beat

Today's centerpiece focuses on an elementary school that uses a yearlong program to teach students about responsibility. For more information about Values in Action or starting a similar program call Gene Bedley at (714) 551-6690 or Emperor Elementary School at

(818) 285-2111.

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