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What's Working in Wisconsin: Community Partners and Character Education

Courtesy of Lisa Falduto

I firmly believe that it takes a village to raise a child!  When you look at the education of our youth it is not just the teachers who need to focus on education, but the parents and the community.  We are all stakeholders when it comes to education because we all stand to lose or gain with the outcomes!

My passion in education seems to change and evolve each year and at times even month to month.  I have run the gamut from literacy, nutrition, bullying, poverty, and so many others.  The one area that each of these has in common is that they cannot be accomplished without the school, parents, and the community all working together.

I believe we have a long way to go in Wisconsin to get everyone working together on behalf of our children and our future.  Two years ago I rolled up my sleeves to begin making a difference in my daughter's elementary school by finding ways to engage our parents and our community.  I had already been working on introducing character education in our school and I knew that this was the perfect platform to get people involved.  So I asked for teacher volunteers who were interested in being matched with a community partner to come in to their classroom once a month and teach a character related lesson to students.  I assumed in the first year that about 5-6 teachers may want to pilot the program.  I was pleasantly surprised when 16 out of our 21 teachers wanted in!

I went out into the community promoting the "adopt a classroom" program to our local businesses and organizations.  After three solid months of recruiting I had finally located a partner for all 16 classrooms.  Now I had the community engaged in our school!  I was able to observe several lessons in action and our partners were fantastic!  Our community partners bring a different perspective and energy to each classroom.   They are role models from our community coming in to connect with our youth.  As with anything that is created there are expected and unexpected outcomes.  Through this program not only has the community embraced our school, our school has embraced our community!  One classroom is matched with the local humane society and the students decided to use their "citizenship" character pillar to do an in school fundraiser for the pets of the shelter.  Over $2000 was raised during that event.  Another example was the classroom that tied fleece blankets for the American Red Cross, or the classroom that planted flowers and had them delivered to a local nursing home.  The list goes on...

As a result of character education and our community partners, behavior referrals to the office have dropped 45%.  That is a significant drop, and not only do we have staff and parents to thank, we owe a huge thanks to our community partners.  This shows how effective a program can be when you have staff, parents, and the community involved.

It is vital that we all partner together to create a strong educational system within our community.  I know others around the state are working to engage the community in their schools as well.  When we choose to support our students by bringing in all the stakeholders, we will create strong educational outcomes for your youth!

Lisa is the 2011 Mom Congress Delegate for Wisconsin. She has a strong background as a teacher and administrator in the field of Early Childhood education.  She continues to be passionate about issues relating to families, children and education.  Lisa is married and has two lovely daughters!