WEST MILFORD, N.J. – To kick off a morning assembly last week, Bill Kane, principal of Maple Road Elementary School asked his students, “What do respect and being respectful mean to you?”
Students raised their hands and gave answers like “Being nice,” “Standing up for people” and “Keeping their trust.”
Such exchanges are not uncommon at Maple Road, one of just 13 schools in the state to be recognized as a 2016 New Jersey State School of Character by the New Jersey Alliance for Social Emotional and Character Development.
"You can feel the positive climate in these schools the minute you walk through the door. The students, staff and community are respectful and care about each other, and the academics scores improve," said Nina Kemps, New Jersey Schools of Character Coordinator.
Each month, Maple Road’s staff helps students focus on a different character trait such as courage, trust, or this month’s – respect. There are classroom-based lessons on the traits and service learning projects too. Students currently are collecting items to be distributed to homeless people in New York City.
Caitlin Helder, the school’s social worker, thinks it is vital to teach kids not just the basics of math and reading, but also the importance of things like having integrity and being kind. She tells students things like, “If no one is looking, we can still open the door for somebody,” she said.
Kristi Clave, who teaches children with multiple disabilities, said the character education program makes Maple Road a wonderful place for her students.
“There is virtually no bullying toward my students. It is kind of incredible,” Clave said. “The parents of kids in my class are so thrilled that this is such a focus here.”
Kane said the benefits of character education will help students long past when they leave the elementary school.
“In this ever-changing economy of the 21st century, our students have to have a foundation in character development,” he said. “These are the skills and goals they need to help them build healthy, positive relationships and eventually succeed.”