While topics like new infrastructure and capital facilities funding are still priorities at most area school districts, local educators in the greater Spokane Valley are also emphasizing the importance of building character.
The P.A.C.E. program – Partners Advancing Character Education – was officially introduced with the start of the 2010-11 school year. Instead of bricks and mortar, this project includes the development of traits like fairness, responsibility, caring and gratitude. The construction crew consists of all four Spokane Valley school districts – Central Valley, East Valley, Freeman and West Valley, as well as local businesses, civic groups and the faith community.
The Spokane Teachers Credit Union is one of several companies that have signed on as a sponsor of P.A.C.E., promoting the 12 character traits – one for each month of the year – not only among local students but STCU employees as well.
“It’s important to walk the talk,” said Keely Barrett, STCU communications manager. “Teaching these character qualities is great, but teachers and parents also have to set an example by living them.”
Reader boards along Sprague Avenue and throughout other sections of town are displaying the featured trait as a reminder to those who pass. This month’s theme is “respect.”
The traits were originally established by the West Valley School District in 2000 as part of a character building program. Sue Shields, a spokeswoman for WVSD, said the process – facilitated by an oversight committee – included a considerable amount of discussion and public outreach.
“It was a real community-wide effort,” Shields said.
While WVSD has had their program in place for the past decade, the roots of a broader approach were planted in 2008 when recently hired Central Valley Superintendent Ben Small participated in an educational conference in Yakima. There, an administrator named Jesse Garza told the crowd about a supplement to the district’s curriculum that emphasized positive character traits. The Character Education Initiative was working to counteract many of the negative influences in the area, including the preponderance of gangs.
Small began talking with local leaders like Liberty Lake Mayor Wendy Van Orman about a similar project in the Spokane Valley area. Soon businesses like Avista were on board.
“It was nice to have everyone at the table,” Small said.
The first discussions occurred in the summer of 2008 near the time of the Valley View Fire, a blaze that destroyed nearly a dozen homes and left many stranded. Small said he saw many of the character traits that he hoped to incorporate into the program displayed by local residents who rallied to help their neighbors.
“I saw a lot of character displayed by the community around that time,” Small said.
Small hopes to have 70 local groups pledged by October. The vote of confidence does not require a financial commitment, but merely an acknowledgement of support by displaying P.A.C.E. posters and brochures, involving employees or representatives of the group in the ongoing initiative and recognizing those in the community who represents the featured traits. Organizations can also become a sponsor by contributing a donation of $250.
“Just having a character trait on a reader board has an impact,” Small said. “You can display quotes about the trait and use it as a talking point.”
Scott Ryman, who has worked as an administrator/educator with Spokane County Juvenile Court for over 30 years, said the development of character “forms the basis for self-respect.”
“When we help kids that personal success in their lives and the development of traits like honesty and gratitude are connected it gives them that much better chance of making often dramatic changes in their attitude,” Ryman said. “The P.A.C.E. program is well thought out and it’s a great thing that at least some schools are incorporating it into their curriculum.”
While each school district will take a different approach in implementing the traits throughout the year, Small said one of the keys will be to acknowledge students who exemplify stellar character. He pointed to the example of several University High School students earlier this month who turned in a wallet containing $125 after finding it in the cafeteria.
“We as a community need to draw more attention to things like that,” Small said. “These are the conversations that will make a difference.”
Want to find out more?
To learn more about the P.A.C.E. program and how to pledge or become a sponsor, call the Central Valley School District office at 228-5400 or go to www.cvsd.org.