Diverse Student Demographics Create a Challenge for Character Education
Students of Kennesaw Mountain High School were becoming less engaged in the classroom and the school’s character education program had grown stale. Learn how Habitudes helped to instill leadership and character in these students, and the changes that followed. Billy Richardson, the Assistant Principal, shares how Habitudes helped create dramatic results with the students:
What problems were you facing before Habitudes?
Our school culture has greatly changed because more and more kids are looking at what they can do to get involved, to be more active. Up until I was presented with Habitudes, character education was getting to be a yearly fight. I have not had that fight since.
As Assistant Principal, I’ve been part of the leadership for our character education program from its beginning. Over these 10+ years, I have seen many character programs come and go. Three years ago, our program was getting stale. Students were becoming bored and not engaging with the lessons, and teachers were starting to fight back on doing character education altogether. On top of this, we had some major changes going on in and around the school. For example:
- We had a significant loss of students enrolled (over 1,000).
- The demographics of our student population changed as we saw free and reduced lunches increase from 2% to 37%.
- Many incoming students only had a 5th grade reading level.
The challenge we faced was trying to teach character education to a very diverse demographic of students.
How did Habitudes help you meet this challenge?
When I was introduced to Habitudes, I immediately saw it would be a great bridge between the learning gaps. We implemented Habitudes into our existing character education program, which is facilitated once a month in Homeroom. A student, teacher, or local business leader will teach a Habitude lesson and facilitate the discussions and activities for the whole class.
Every student in our school goes through this program. And, each grade level goes through a different Habitudes book. Our students also volunteer to teach Habitudes to our feeder schools. We provide a bus for them to be transported to our middle and elementary schools where we instill leadership and character in kids.
In addition, our students exercise and practice the skills learned through Habitudes during other events throughout the year, such as:
Special Needs Dance – Our students fundraise and lead dances for special needs kids from our county. As some might know, most special needs students never attend their high school dances. Our students go all out for these kids, dancing, taking pictures, and having fun!
Shop With A Student – This event provides under privileged children and families in the Kennesaw area with food and clothing during the Christmas time. Our students sponsor these children and take them shopping, help them wrap presents, and even give reading glasses to those children in need. Last year, they were able to raise enough to pay for a surgery for one of the children.
Baseball League for Special Needs Kids – Our students convinced local politicians to build a two million dollar baseball field for special needs kids. Now, our students volunteer to help 3 teams on their own Saturdays.
What results did Habitudes help create for your school?
Since we have implemented Habitudes, we have seen the curriculum contribute to the following results both in our school and in our community:
- 45% increase in community service hours per students. Even some of our homeless kids volunteer to support our special education programs.
- 60% decrease in fights.
- 40% decrease in theft.
- 50% increase in sophomore student leaders.
- 400% increase in student-initiated clubs.
Ultimately, we are seeing students from all demographics engage in the Habitudes lessons and having conversations on how to prepare for their life ahead of them.
In the local community, we’ve seen the following results:
- Some local business owners have said, “We will hire the Kennesaw Mountain students first,” even though there are five other high schools in our area.
- Some real estate agents have said, “When we see the numbers of community service hours from the students, it becomes a selling point to give to the parents of why they should buy in the Kennesaw Mountain High School district.”
Is there a specific story of change that comes to mind?
Another story of change includes, Donovan, who is one of our “at-risk” students. At one point, we seriously looked at removing him from school. Since he started Habitudes, though, Donovan has actually straightened up. He’s not in trouble, and I’ve noticed his grades going up. He is that typical kid from a broken family, living in the projects. Donovan is still involved with the rough crowd, but he’s making the right decisions. I am honored that his mom drives him to our school each day. They don’t live in our district, but in South Cobb. His mom is really trying to give him a better life.