Education goes beyond facts and figures at LES

Students stand in a line displaying certificates as a person stands behind them and to the left and other students watch while sitting on the gym floor

From task-tacklers to productive problem-solvers, dozens of students are honored monthly during Liberty Elementary School’s Character Counts Awards ceremonies.

The awards grew out of LES’s commitment to the Leader in Me (LIM) framework, which began during the 2019-20 school year and empowers students with the leadership and life skills they need to thrive in the 21st century. At that time, the school had monthly “Star Student” awards, but they had no connection to core tenets of  character development, LES Principal Robert England said.

The following year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Character Counts awards began. The awards reinforce the concepts of LIM, celebrate student efforts in those areas, educate parents and demonstrate commitment by and to staff that this is important, England said.

“At Liberty Elementary School, we’re teaching students to think about their own thinking and make conscious and strategic choices,” he said.

LIM and the Character Counts awards support Liberty’s five-year strategic plan pillar of Culture and promoting the mission and vision of the district.

Earning an award

The building toward the awards begins during the first eight days of school, during a “social emotional orientation.”

Students are introduced or reintroduced to the Eight Habits used by Leader in Me, which are based off of Stephen R. Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and related books. Those first eight days also give the students an opportunity to get to know each other, their teachers, the staff and the school building, through scavenger hunts and other hands-on activities.

Each month, classes building-wide focus on learning one of the eight habits and reinforcing the previous one. Each classroom teacher has the opportunity to select two students for the awards each month, one for each habit that was the focus that month. If a teacher feels no student meets the criteria for one or both awards, an award will not be given for that habit in that classroom.

A student can win both awards for the month, but that hasn’t happened, England said. Students can and have won more than one award in a year.

Being Involved

A woman kneels on the floor with her arm around a child holding a certificate as another person takes a picture.  Another child holding a certificate is in the background.Parents and guardians of that month’s winners are invited to attend the ceremonies, which are held in two parts—kindergarten, first grade and multi-age rooms, and second through fourth grades. The ceremony is also live streamed. The aim of having parents and guardians engaged with the awards is for the habits taught at school to continue and grow at home.

Students, staff and families cheer loudly as each recipient’s name is read, and the winners go to the front of the gymnasium to receive their certificates as well as a small prize.

Students take a leadership role in the awards by naming the awards. They are invited to offer suggestions for fun names for each habit’s award. The suggestions are reviewed by the Culture Committee/Building Leadership Team, which narrows down the list to three or four names on which the students vote via survey.

Tying it together

This year, LES began recognizing students with perfect or near perfect attendance during the ceremony. That reinforces the first three habits, which focus on internal choices of personal responsibility, goal setting and self-management. Those who chose to be on time and in school every day or only miss one day are recognized for their dedication to making school and their learning a priority, England said.

Each student also has “Wildly Important Goals” as part of the Leader in Me. These goals, personal and academic, help students measure their progress, as do the students’ self-reflective Personal Leadership binders. In the binder they have prompts to help them think about where they are excelling and where they could improve.

“Leader in Me prompts us to be our better selves,” England said.

A man speaks into a microphone in a gym as people sit on the floor and other watch from seats above.The awards also help students realize they will not always be perfect, he added. They become self aware of their failing and acknowledge they need to take steps to improve.

The Leader in Me principles are also reinforced by “Caught Being a Leader,” which praises students who choose to do something positive when they thought nobody was watching.

The year is capped by the Field Day in June, where the next three habits, which focus on interactions with others, are reinforced in games and activities.

Focusing on the seventh habit, “Sharpen the Saw,” (taking care of yourself), the school has replaced sugary drinks with flavored water stations, which have been a hit with students, England said.

The results

There have been positive, tangible results since Leader in Me and the Character Counts awards were established, England said.

“Our referrals have dropped dramatically,” he said.

And the curriculum integration of Leader in Me into other subjects has led to academic improvement with more students consistently reaching math and reading goals.

Students are supportive of each other, and that reinforces LIM work done in the classroom, encouraging other students to do better, he said.

“In the end, the singular purpose is for children to realize that their past or current conditions don’t need to dictate their future,” he said. “We want each and every student to have a positive vision of their futures no matter what their circumstances might be. We want our students to feel  empowered with a self-directed plan, measurable goals and an internal belief that they can overcome any obstacle to meet their potential.”