Building character

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 6, 2003

It wasn’t just a history lesson when Linda Applegate read of Nelson Mandela’s 27 years in a South African prison for opposing Apartheid.

&uot;Think of why someone would choose to stay in prison for 27 years. He’s a fighter,&uot; she told a group of students afterward during an learning activity. &uot;He was doing something he believed in.&uot;

Applegate’s lesson was historical, but the intent and the corresponding workbook and lesson plan weren’t what might be considered conventional. It was a lesson about character &045; specifically, dedication. This year, Southwest Middle School has a formal program to teach kids lessons about dedication, gratitude, respect, tolerance and other qualities.

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And while teaching values may be considered the task of a parent, administrators say it’s also their job.

&uot;Because of the fast-paced lifestyle that the people live today, some parents don’t have the time it takes to work with these types of issues,&uot; said David Prescott, Superintendent of Albert Lea Area Schools.

He said the plan affects the quality of education at the school by increasing positive reinforcement. &uot;If you approach behavior in a positive way, you spend less time with negative behavior,&uot; he said.

&uot;You can get a very well-behaved building through intimidation, but it won’t be very good academically,&uot; he said.

The high school is working with the teacher’s union to install a similar program.

The program has a number of pieces. One is vocabulary &045; teaching kids words in the hope that they will aspire to embody the definition of that word. The words also show up on SAT and ACT tests.

Kids begin the week by hearing a story like the one about Mandela. They also hear &uot;words of wisdom&uot; every day, quotations from people like Benjamin Franklin, Sophocles and Lao Tzu.

Classes at various times have service projects. This week, Applegate collected eyeglasses from different classrooms.

Two students, Mitchell Sorenson, and Casey Woodside did that Wednesday.

&uot;I think it’s cool,&uot; Sorenson said.

&uot;It teaches respect,&uot; Woodside agreed.

But early in the morning last Tuesday, the kids were a little quiet during a discussion on dedication. Later, girls in a group that was creating a crossword puzzle were less than enthusiastic as they thought of words that had to do with dedication.

Helping the students along, Applegate asked, &uot;If someone is dedicated …&uot; &uot;They stick to it,&uot; student Julie Erickson said, shaking her fist. &uot;They’re goal-setters.&uot;

Applegate said the program is young and kids are still adjusting to it and becoming comfortable with their classmates.

Principal Marsha Langseth said she thinks the program has had an effect already.

She said that last week when special-education students came late to lunch is an example. They received no grief when students had to back up the lunch line so they could go first, as they usually do. A special ed. teacher told her that last year that wouldn’t have been the case.

Langseth said the program is intended to teach tolerance, among other things. &uot;That certainly shows tolerance,&uot; she said.

(Contact Tim Sturrock at or 379-3438.)