In a New Jersey seventh-grade history class, students put Christopher Columbus “on trial” to determine whether the explorer was a good or bad leader.
This is one lesson teachers at the Gibbsboro Public School District are using to help teach students about seven traits: service, positivity, compassion, respect, integrity, motivation and responsibility. These traits make up the “Super 7,” a character-building curriculum that has reduced student delinquencies and increased test scores at the district’s only school, which houses 300 students in preschool through grade eight.
“We came up with these elements by surveying our entire school community on what characteristics they think make up a good school,” says Principal Brett Thorpe. “While we give our teachers a framework based on the Super 7, we also allow them to incorporate it how they want.”
According to the U.S. Department of Education, a character education trend emerged after Congress passed the Partnerships in Character Education Program in 1994. While there are many popular national curriuclums, Gibbsboro created its own.
Sports and writing
Teachers have incorporated the seven elements across all subjects. For example, in gym, students sign sportsmanship contracts in which they promise to treat each other with respect. Fifth graders also write fiction stories for younger students to teach them a “Super 7” element.
Developed in 2010, the character-building curriculum was inspired by Superintendent Anthony Trongone’s work at a previous district. It was also created to meet new state standards on anti-bullying.
“Our goal is to not only teach students how to treat others, but also how to be their best,” Thorpe says. “Academics are important, but we also want to focus on the whole child.”
Since the curriculum was implemented, the school went from having 26 detentions in the 2010-11 year to only four so far this year, Thorpe says. On standardized tests, math scores rose from 83 percent proficient to 88 percent.
In addition, Gibbsboro was recently named a finalist as a National Character School by the Character Education Partnership organization.
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