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Special School District of St. Louis County

SSD Schools Honored for Promising Practices in Character Education

Neuwoehner Promising Practices Award
Lori Breeding, a teacher at SSD's Neuwoehner High School, has been selected as a 2013 Promising Practices award winner through the Character Education Partnership for her “Tales of Character” puppet show.

“Tales of Character,” a puppet show that was produced at Neuwoehner, will serve as a model for others to replicate and integrate into their character education initiatives.

Each year, as part of the National Schools of Character program, educators are recognized for implementing unique, specific, and effective character education strategies. For 2013, 262 awards were distributed across six nations.

The idea for the puppet show came to Breeding while she was doing a world music unit on Indonesia, Javanese instrumentation, shadow puppetry and Gamelan orchestra music.

“The students really seemed to enjoy learning about this culture, and I saw a puppet show done by a friend of mine and thought it could be fun,” says Breeding. “My recent certification in character education was also a definite catalyst in my desire to create and implement this puppet show.”

According to Breeding, shadow puppet shows in this culture are often based on tales of morality. This made the puppet show a great tie-in with character education and the arts. 

“I wanted to make it more personal for the students, so I had them become the puppets. They designed the puppets in their likenesses, and I had them write the script using Board Maker pictures,” says Breeding. “The students were asked to choose character traits, feelings and locations that were most important to them from these pictures.”

The students also composed their own music using Orff instruments. Because the classroom doesn’t have any authentic Gamelan orchestra instrumentation, they improvised melodies using a pentatonic scale. The music and voices were recorded separately, which assisted with the flow when students were acting with their puppets. 

“I videotaped and edited the shows, and some sound effects were added in for fun,” says Breeding. “It was then made into a movie for the students to share with peers and parents.”

Students gained numerous benefits from the experience, according to Breeding.

“The most important benefit for the students was their ability to communicate their thoughts in a non-threatening platform, a place where they wouldn’t be judged or questioned,” she says.

Breeding says she thinks that students also learned through seeing themselves as puppets and having the opportunity to communicate their feelings aloud. “They were able to experience character education in a platform that, while mostly fictional and predominantly campy, carried great personal and significant meaning for them."

“It also helped tighten the bond between students of different abilities and increased interest in volunteering and helping others,” says Breeding. “They were able to learn about another culture and relate it to their own.”

The music solidified unity among the students as an ensemble often does. “It helped the students and staff work together as a team on a long-term goal,” says Breeding. “And everyone took pride in their work and realized the reward of that work is the joy it brings to others.”

Northview Promising Practices Award
Another Promising Practices award was given to Northview High School, where the staff and students implemented schoolwide service-learning projects using Cathryn Berger Kaye’s “The Complete Guide to Service Learning.”

All students at the school were involved with five service-learning projects, and academic content was applied using the curriculum webs, which the staff committee provided to every classroom. 

“The approach is collaborative, intentional, and purposeful and reaches out on school, local, national and global levels,” says Stephanie Valleroy, Northview principal.

The projects included:  creating food baskets for needy Northview families; making casseroles each month for an area homeless shelter; collecting supplies for support dogs; sending notes and postage for care packages for military service members in combat zones through Operation Gratitude; and collecting shoes that are sold for money that buys water filtration systems for underdeveloped areas in Africa through the Shoeman Water Project.

Students in each classroom then connected the service projects with each contact learning area such as math, science or social studies.

The connection between academic learning and service projects is the focal point. “By participating in the casserole program for St. Patrick’s Center, a homeless shelter, students learn about how people become homeless, discuss the importance of helping others, identify agencies in St. Louis that provide assistance, learn about healthy eating, and research food banks in the St. Louis area using the computer,” says Valleroy. 

“They also make posters and baked goods for monthly bake sales that raise money for casserole ingredients, purchase ingredients on a monthly basis, read a recipe, learn about nutritional needs, and study the effect of hunger on performance,” she says.

Students provide updates and information on projects at monthly assemblies and as a school, they reflect on what they learn and see what they can do better as a community.

“This type of breakdown exists for all five projects,” says Valleroy. “All of our students have disabilities ranging from emotionally disturbed to multiple disabilities, so activities are highly modified and individual, yet all participate to the best of their ability.” 

According to Valleroy, service learning provides moral and ethical action opportunities for students. “Students have a voice in selecting and planning schoolwide projects and activities associated with them,” she says. “Students from different classrooms with differing disabilities collaborate on many activities, creating opportunities for mutual respect among all participants.”

Since the service projects have been converted to service-learning projects, the positive and unified atmosphere of the school has increased dramatically. “All students, staff, parents and community partners have come together to form a team whose primary focus is being a caring community which gives back,” says Valleroy.

Northview was one of only 24 schools nationwide to be recognized as a National School of Character by the Character Education Partnership in 2012.
Northview promising practices project photo
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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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