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Chatham Middle School


At Chatham Middle School, students are committed to character building. In February, the school was named the 2010 New York State School of Character, the third time it earned the honor.1 In the late 1990s, Chatham instituted six pillars of character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. Soaring above the state standards of mandatory character education, the campus now boasts more than 25 extracurricular groups, from the National Junior Honor Society to a peer mediation program. This commitment to character education can be seen in the student art and photography displayed on the walls, and in the students themselves, who have learned the importance of putting others first—students like Destynie Summers. Last year, the eighth-grader showed how much she valued the pillar of caring by donating her hair to Locks of Love.

Cyndi Herron, one of two counselors at Chatham, attributes the school’s success to its emphasis on student’s socioemotional development. Every Friday for 40 minutes, students meet in small groups with teachers who facilitate discussions about character development and the importance of listening skills. During this time, students also engage in role playing. For instance, a student may pretend to be a bully to stimulate student discussion on resolving conflict.

Herron says service learning is also a focus at the school. Sixth-graders read to elementary school students and eighth-graders visit a veterans’ center in Albany four times a year. Eighth-graders also participate in a pen pal project in which they write letters to the center’s veterans during the school year.

The school’s positive atmosphere has allowed students to thrive academically. Student achievement on state assessments in English language arts and math has increased steadily in the past few years. Teachers also support students who are struggling. They are required to attend an after-school program where a teaching assistant provides extra help and gets to know the students individually. “She creates a rapport with the kids,” Herron says. The assistant sits in on their classes and keeps track of which assignments they’ve turned in and which ones they need to complete. She also sends a letter to parents every week to keep them up to date on how their child is doing in school.

Along with teachers supporting students, administrators support teachers. When a sixth-grade math teacher recently stayed after school to work with students who needed help, she realized the group was too large for her to teach them well. So she called the principal, Gordon Fitting, to ask if he could lend a hand. Fitting said yes and stayed after school to help her. “He went in there and did some math with the kids,” Herron recalls. “That’s the kind of place it is.”

Ultimately, Chatham is a fine example of a school that teaches students to value both the pursuit of learning and the importance of good character.


1New York Teacher, May 16, 2010 http://www.nysut.org/newyorkteacher_15195.htm.


 

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