Breakfast, with a slice of advice

Teachers, students applaud program that allows them to address life issues before class

October 01, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Brenda Luengas, a sixth-grader at Annapolis Middle School, said students don't push in the halls anymore.

"Usually, when we came back from lunch, they were running and pushing," she said. "But this year, they don't. They walk nicely."

Brenda thinks the difference is Caring Community, a new program at Annapolis Middle School. Instead of the typical take-attendance-and-listen-to-announcements homeroom, teachers use the first half-hour of the day to talk to students about issues that matter to them.

In its first month, the program has already produced positive results, said Twila Walker, the assistant principal.

In September 2005, 148 disciplinary office referrals were issued, she said. On Thursday, with only one school day remaining in the month, the number had plummeted to 26.

"It's definitely a different climate," she said.

In the past, homeroom and the first class of the day were combined, Walker explained. Students could buy and eat breakfast in the school cafeteria until the 7:55 a.m. bell marked the start of the school day.

This year, the school won a federal grant, so that all students -- and teachers -- can eat breakfast at school. The meals are delivered to the classrooms, so kids and teachers can eat together during the Caring Community sessions, Walker explained.

Homerooms have been shrunk to about 15 students, instead of 25. No new staff was needed -- teachers who don't have a first-period class are now running the program, explained Principal Carolyn E. Page.

The half-hour sessions have been held every school day in September, but starting this month they will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Walker said. On the other days, students will eat breakfast in class during homeroom, she said, but character lessons won't be delivered.

Walker said she started the program to "change the culture and character of our school, make it conducive to learning."

"We looked at the needs of our school," she said. "We had some concerns with classroom disrespect, things like that."

A group of seven teachers, counselors and administrators called the Character Council put together a program that focuses on values, relationships and responsibility.

Walker praised the teachers and school officials for embracing it. "It's definitely a group effort," she said.

The discussion in Debra Lambert's homeroom class Thursday morning was about Internet bullying. Blake Budmir, 11, said that while using a role-playing game called Runescape, a fellow player asked him his real name, not his Internet name. That raised a red flag.

So Blake, a sixth-grader, replied that his name is Rick, he's 18 years old, and he lives in California.

Blake said he knew to watch out for Internet stalkers, but he still finds the Caring Community discussions helpful. He didn't know, for example, that hackers could find out his e-mail address or other personal information, he said.

He did know that he never wants to be a bully, he said, "because I learned that bullying, even though it might make you feel good for a while, it'll make you feel bad in the end."

One goal of the Caring Community is to get students to open up about their school experiences. "We discuss what's happening in sixth grade," explained Seth Coveyou, 11. "I feel that's really important, because if you're not comfortable in school, you're never going to like school."

Lambert, a math teacher, said kids are remarkably open about their experiences.

"I can say, `How's sixth grade going?' They do open up," she said. "They share a lot. It gives them a chance."

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