Building character draws praise

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April 30, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Jazmyne Honeycutt’s schedule can be a bit hectic, she admitted.
When not focused on her studies, the Iola High School senior also is a standout athlete in a variety of sports. And since the start of the 2008-09 school year, community service work has been a staple of her daily routine.
“It’s a matter of juggling everything around,” Honeycutt said.
Before signing up for the IHS leadership class, such an endeavor would have easily become overwhelming, particularly for this self-admitted procrastinator.
If she could put off a project, Honeycutt said, she would.
“But this leadership class has taught me how to manage time better,” Honeycutt said.
She’s not alone.
Honeycutt is one of 17 juniors and seniors enrolled in the leadership class this year, the fourth for the fledgling IHS program.
And the class has done much more than just teach time management, ex-plained instructor and school counselor Jodi Grover.
Students also have learned the value of teamwork and responsibility, of being able to count on their classmates and to be counted on themselves.
The leadership class has embarked on a number of community projects, including visiting with residents at area nursing homes, collecting donations for UNICEF at Halloween and taking part in a number of “drive-by rakings,” in which the students indiscriminately went to a variety of yards in Iola to clean up fallen leaves.
The work has gained attention, both in the community and by the State Department of Education.
School officials will travel to Topeka Thursday to receive a Promising Practices in Character Education Award. The ceremony will take place in the Brown V. the Topeka Board of Education National Historic Site.
 
WHILE receiving the honor is a nice feather in the school’s cap, the character education program hopes to expand and provide even more opportunities to spark student involvement within the community, said Jodi Grover, a counselor and instructor at IHS.
The IHS LINK crew works in the same mode. It consists of high school juniors and seniors who help incoming students from Iola Middle School become better acclimated to the high school and what it has to offer.
Beginning with freshmen orientation day, the upperclassmen provide activities, character education lessons and service project opportunities to build confidence for the younger students.
“The goal is to get the incoming freshmen involved immediately, in order to get them and keep them more engaged throughout high school,” Grover said.
After all, high-schoolers who are active in the community now are more apt to be that way after their schooling is complete.
Grover plans to use a pair of new curriculum programs to further educate students on responsibility, time management, self-awareness and self-management to decrease discipline referrals.
There already seems to be a positive impact, particularly with the younger students.
For example, the number of ninth-graders failing at least two courses in their first semester of school stood at a whopping 29 percent in 2007. This year, that number was pared to 12 percent. The number of students facing disciplinary measures in 2007 was 46 percent. This year, the number is 12 percent.
In the fall of 2007, IHS reported 77 suspensions, 347 in-school suspensions and 152 students assigned to Saturday school. Last fall, the school reported 30 suspensions, 11 in-school suspensions and 66 students assigned to Saturday School.
“Something is helping,” Grover said.

THE LEADERSHIP class, meanwhile, plans to increase its number of community projects next year, while working more extensively with other clubs throughout the high school.
The class will host a high school EXPO for current eighth-graders who will be headed to the high school in the fall.
Grover said the high school jazz band and choirs will perform as will the high school cheerleading team.
The leadership class does more community service project-themed activities, such as volunteering with local senior citizens, Grover said.
Future programs include honoring high school athletes of the week for their prowess on the field and in the classroom as well as honoring students who maintain good grades — and just as importantly — improve their academic standing.
“We’re hoping that by using motivation, we can get more kids to do well,” she said, even ones who may have previously struggled to get good grades.
“We want to think big, to get lots of kids involved,” Grover said.

CHELSEA Layman, senior, admitted to being a bit uneasy about volunteering in a nursing home.
“They used to creep me out,” she said.
But after getting to know the residents, and realizing they had stories to tell about being young and bits of advice for the high-schoolers, the bi-weekly trips have grown quite enjoyable.
“You should see their eyes light up when we get there,” Kaitlyn Bauer, a junior, said.
“They’re nice to talk to,” Layman added.
Crystal Clay, senior, praised her experiences with the leadership club, while admitting that with the end of the school year rapidly approaching, and a number of activities still on the burner, her schedule also has become quite frantic.
They are producing a video for third-graders, will host a luncheon next week and still go to nursing homes.
That’s the purpose of the class, Grover explained, to force the students to learn to work as a team.
“If you don’t accomplish something, you feel like you’re letting everyone else down,” Bauer said.
That, Grover interjected, is a true measure of responsibility.
“I know they feel overwhelmed right now, but they’re doing a great job,” Grover said. “They’re humble, which also exhibits leadership. They’re not looking for recognition. I’m proud of them.”
The program also has benefited from donations by Emprise Bank and Iolans John and Georgia Masterson.
“Without them, this wouldn’t have been possible,” Grover said. “The entire community has been supportive.”

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