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 Article of Interest - Character Education

Academy Teaches Character
Grant will let 3 schools track progress, use plan as national model.
by Steve Pardo, The Detroit News, October 6, 2002
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Educators at the Charyl Stockwell Academy charter school emphasize improving a student's character by teaching that their choices have repercussions.

The school, along with two other charter schools in Michigan with character strategies, will measure the achievement of their students and eventually showcase their programs to the rest of the nation.

A federal grant totaling $1.6 million over four years and shared by the three schools will allow them to do this.

The other schools to share the grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education are the Livingston Technical Academy in Howell and Grand Traverse Academy in Traverse City.

The grant is part of $25 million divided up among schools in at least five states.

All three Michigan schools are part of the Smart Schools Management Inc. organization created in 1996 by Brighton resident Chuck Stockwell and Dr. Steven Ingersoll, a behavioral optometrist.

The grant will allow the schools, working together, to measure and track the learning and development of students.

Results of the four-year study could have national implications. If the results show strong academic achievement and low rates of disciplinary problems, the federal government could move to implement the teaching methods in other schools in the nation.

"It's an opportunity for us to take the ideas that we've been working on for the last six years and teach it to the regular school system," Stockwell said.

The grant comes from money created by the No Child Left Behind Act.

The legislation, signed into law Jan. 8, 2001, by President Bush, centers on four education reform principles: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents and an emphasis on teaching methods that have been proven to work.

The schools will start by developing an educational model and training their educators so the results of the program can be measured according to federal standards.

While the grant is in effect, the schools will work with Central Michigan University's department of education, which will monitor the progress of students.

All three schools use an educational theory that stresses individual responsibility and how it relates to the classroom and relationships. In the Stockwell Academy, for example, students don't move up in grades until they show a mastery in the subjects. So the school has multiage classrooms with students as young as 5 or as old as 9.

"The school system in the U.S. is designed so that kindergarten is age 5, first grade is age 6 and so on," said Diane Vance, principal of the Stockwell Academy.

"Yet we know children grow at different rates -- they grow physically, emotionally and academically at different rates."

Following academic rules set by the state, students progress at their own pace. A student is considered to have mastered a lesson when he or she gets at least 80 percent of ot test questions correct.

"All the kids in the school have the potential to move up at the end of a 10-week term if they master the curriculum," Vance said.

All three schools focus on educational principles created by Dr. William Glasser, who teaches that a person's most basic needs are for love and understanding.

The philosophy stresses management without coercion and works to show students that choices they male have consequences that affect others.

"What we're trying to do is teach the kind of values that reduce what leads to violence and disruption," Stockwell said.

Kaye Mentley, the principal of Grand Traverse Academy, said the integration of personal responsibility with lesson plans is a goal of the educators.

"We want children to learn about work ethics when they're working on economics," Mentley said. "We want them to learn trustworthiness when learning about historical figures."

All three Michigan schools are operated by Smart Schools Inc., which runs after-school remediation centers in Brighton, Northville, Grandville, Battle Creek and Midland. The schools all boast high parental involvement and student-teacher ratios of about 12-1.

For Highland Township resident Christine Murray, the Stockwell Academy has been a perfect fit for her two daughters, Alexandria, 10, and Victoria Slack, 7.

"We really like the close- knit, loving family atmosphere," Murray said. "We really like the philosophy to give kids choices and hold them accountable for their choices.

"One of the biggest things for me is that the school has set up a partnership between the parents and the teachers and administrators. I didn't feel that or see that in other schools."

The schools and the grant are drawing kudos from local lawmakers.

"Educators and parents across America are looking for ways to make classrooms more learning focused," said U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton.

"Congratulations to these academies as they come together to pool resources and expertise in an effort to create classrooms that teach children to practice good study habits and better interpersonal skills."
The schools will be aided by Larry Lezotte, a Michigan State University researcher and other professionals.
"It is exciting to see an idea initiated here in Livingston County that could touch the nation for generations to come," Lezotte said.

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