12/06/06 — Chinese delegation visits city school to see character program in action

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Chinese delegation visits city school to see character program in action

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 6, 2006 1:45 PM

Teacher Kelly Kokiko called fifth-graders to the front of her classroom at Tommy's Road Elementary School. Each bore a sign indicating a different type of animal.

She asked them to act out characteristics of the animal they represented, then divide up and stand with others like them.

"Is it fair to stereotype that you are all the same just because you're the same animal?" she asked.

"No!" came the resounding answer from the boys and girls.

The question was part of a discussion on cliques and peer groups. The activity was a demonstration for guests at the school.

A delegation from China visited Tommy's Road on Tuesday to observe how the school has incorporated a social skills program called "Making Choices" and its impact on children.

The lessons, developed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, were introduced at the school three years ago when many of the students were in third grade, said Carolyn Byers, a counselor at Tommy's Road.

"We're participating in a study to show the effectiveness of the curriculum," she said.

Ms. Byers has worked at the school for the past two years. In that time, she has witnessed progress in student behavior.

"There's been a decrease in discipline issues and things like that," she said. Students are also encouraged to use language skills to express their feelings and consider alernative solutions, she noted.

That's the way the curriculum is designed, said Steve Day, evaluation director at the UNC School of Social Work. The project, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, measures the effectiveness of the character education program.

"We're doing a four-year experimental study and this is the final year," he said.

The outcome, he explained, is "to help kids make more friends, reduce social aggression -- teasing, exclusion of others that hurts feelings."

While it was introduced primarily to third-graders at the outset, Tommy's Road now uses the program in all grade levels. The effort will continue as long as UNC provides the curriculum, Ms. Byers said.

The 15 Chinese delegates represent the Chinese Commission on Population and Family. They traveled to the United States and also visited schools in Los Angeles and San Francisco, New York and Washington D.C. Last year, a delegation visited a public school in Siler City, N.C., one of the first schools to use "Making Choices."

The stop at Tommy's Road was an opportunity to observe the students and teachers in action before implementing a similar program at elementary schools in China, Day said.

The Chinese visitors, through translators, were able to absorb teacher and student comments in the classrooms visited during their half-day in Wayne County.

The delegation also presented gifts to their hosts. In honor of the 29th Olympiad, which will be held in Beijing in 2008, Olympic souvenirs were given to students and teachers at Tommy's Road.