By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
As students file into Jessie Gilmore’s classroom at Verona Elementary, they must walk around a stuffed lion that sits on the floor near the entrance door.
They’re supposed to be patient and give the lion space. Any student who steps on the stuffed animal must go back and apologize to it.
“We try to take everything in the room and teach with it,” said Gilmore, who teaches a character education class at the kindergarten to fourth-grade school.
This is the first year the class has been taught at Verona. Classes visit Gilmore and assistant character education teacher Linda Tallie an hour a day for an entire week.
Each student spends about eight weeks in the character education class during the year.
“We’re teaching the same principles we grew up on – love, peace, respect,” Gilmore said. “Those values are not being taught as much anymore on a wide scale. … I am glad the school recognized that and the district recognized that and we began teaching it.”
Once in Gilmore’s room, the students begin singing songs or reciting raps about character and manners. Many of the activities come from the Integrity Time lesson plan that is used by many districts in Northeast Mississippi.
What makes this class unique is the amount of time students spend on it.
The class begins with music, singing and dancing.
“W,X, Y, Z, All day long integrity for me,” the students rap. In another song, they sing, “If your attitude is good, clap your hands.”
“If you’re attitude is not good, don’t clap,” Gilmore says as the music plays.
In addition to the music, the children will do different character-building activities. In one, Gilmore puts a turtle on the classroom floor to teach third- and fourth-grade students to be patient and tolerant as the animal slowly walks.
In another, she has kindergarten and first-grade students draw a “hospitality house” and then tell what they will put inside their house.
Some students tell Gilmore they’ll put kind words in their house, others pledge sharing or patience or fairness.
First-graders Maria Washington, Quinasia Walton, Terrence Harris and Saniyah Shumpert each said they’ve learned things like keeping their hands to themselves and saying “yes sir,” “yes ma’am,” “please,” and “I’m sorry.”
“I like the class because you think about the way you act and learn a better way,” Quinasia said.
Third-grade teacher Dana Rickard has seen a change in her students since they began taking the class this year.
“They’ve learned strategies about how to keep their cool and how to control their tempers and those were things they needed to work on,” Rickard said. “They use different vocabulary words like integrity and respect. They really do use those words when they talk with each other.”
Verona Principal Temeka Shannon also has noticed a difference on campus.
“It is rewarding because we have fewer discipline infractions,” Shannon said. “If students are doing something wrong, we can ask them about what they learned in character education class. They can take a step back and say, ‘What is the right thing to do.'”
Sometimes when she is in the cafeteria, Shannon hears students singing the songs or reciting the words they learned in character education class.
“Normally they would be talking about music or dancing, but they’re concerned about character,” Shannon said. “It’s inspiring.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or firstname.lastname@example.org.