How Are You A Gift?

When I talk with kids about citizenship, I often pose the question, “How are you a gift to Westwood?” Over the years, I’ve gotten some interesting responses. One teacher piggybacked on that idea a few years back and asked her students to select an adjective to describe themselves before writing a reflective paragraph answering that very question. Who could forget the creative names they came up with that we so proudly displayed on that bulletin board in the cafeteria: Environmental Emily, Responsible Reed, Accepting Amanda, Caring Christian. So this activity could be used as a morning-meeting started or a reflective writing prompt. Ask your students how are they gifts to certain places where they belong like to their families, to their friends, to the Scouts, to their sports teams, to their community. Click here for a sample handout that could be put in a writing center to help your little writers get started, then let them brainstorm some additional sentence starters and see where their gifts take them. Write on!

A Vote For Citizenship

Good citizens make informed decisions by staying on top of the current issues and closely watching the candidates campaign. They take part in shaping our democracy by exercising their right to vote. Our little learners are not too young to be involved in the voting process. In fact, every four years we get to vote for the President of the United States, one of the biggest decisions that we as citizens get to make. Why not take your child(ren) along to the polls with you. They are allowed to walk through the voting process with you provided that they do not disturb the voters around them. So talk with them first about what to expect, then invite them along to see the democratic process at work. At Westwood, we actually hold a mock election in the Presidential race so that our students can register to vote, then cast their vote on Election Day for the candidate of their choice. We can wait to see how this year’s race will unfold when the Westwood Polls open November 4.

Service Learning

collieOne of our Character Education program goals at Westwood has been to take our service projects to a deeper level to include all students at all grade levels and find a tie-in with our pillars as well as our academic standards. Service learning takes the kids well past merely performing a service; it allows the students ownership in the process.

This spring, Westwood students voted that our service project be aimed at helping animals. Click here to read all about our plans for a Pet Project as we launch our first-ever school-wide Service Learning Project.


Campaigning for Character

There are two ways to use marketing as a tool by which to enrich your character-building efforts. The first is to ask students to find a common slogan for a product and replace the name brand with the word CHARACTER. The Nike campaign, for example, would be CHARACTER – Just Do It! Borrowing from an old ad campaign for Coca Cola: CHARACTER – It’s The Real Thing. McDonald’s? CHARACTER – I’m lovin’ it! Try it and see what happens. American Express? CHARACTER – Don’t leave home without it. Look at billboards, newspaper ads and commercials; you’ll be amazed at how many of them fit with what your students might want to say about character.

You could also challenge students to make a commercial selling their favorite pillar. Take citizenship, for example. If we were to promote the importance of citizenship, we could do a little skit using a Military Theme to represent patriotism, a crucial part of Citizenship. We could pretend we were sounding off for role call and when we did, we could shout out behaviors which correspond to the citizenship pillar. So we’re in a line, and my name is called, and I step forward, salute and say, “Good citizens cooperate!” Then the next person’s name is called and she salutes as she steps forward and says, “Good citizens do their share to make their school and community better.” A third soldier in the row would say, “Good citizens stay informed.” And a fourth says, “Good citizens obey laws and respect authority.” And so on.


What You Permit, You Promote

I’ve often heard it said, “What you encourage, you teach; what you permit, you promote.” I found a great example of this quote in the motivational story Winston of Churchill: One Bear’s Battle Against Global Warming by Jean Davies Okimoto. Winston, the adorable polar bear of Churchill, Canada, has observed that the earth is getting warmer due to human-generated pollution. He wants to mobilize his friends to do something about it. But Winston’s wife refuses to follow him at first, pointing out that Winston himself contributes to global warming – by smoking a burning, smelly cigar! “How can you convince people to stop doing what they’re doing unless you can show that every little bit helps?” his wife demands.

winstonbookWinston learns that the most persuasive way to advocate change is to change himself, and he gives up his cigar to help convince humans to improve their world. Children of all ages can learn about citizenship through this intriguing tale. There’s a built-in history lesson with the reference to Winston’s namesake, the famous Winston Churchill, who rallied his fellow citizens to fight against potential disaster. And there’s the real-life environmental threat of our times that’s bound to ignite an interesting discussion among students: global warming. Get ready for a riveting debate about what, if anything, we can do to reduce pollution and combat the effects of global warming.

This cool picture book can also be the springboard for a formal debate on the controversy of global warming or a poster project showing every-day examples of global warming. It might also generate an interesting reflective essay on the quote, “What you permit, you promote.” Explain that this quote means if you allow something, then you’re okay with it or even support it. In the book, Winston was smoking which promoted global warming, the very cause he was working against. Ask students to think of another example for their essay of when this might ring true in an elementary school.

Recycling For A Good Cause

tabsGood citizens make wherever they go better because they’re there. They don’t just show up; they contribute something to better their world. There are SO many simple ways to do that. One is through recycling. An easy way for families to recycle together is collecting those little tabs off the tops of aluminum cans. The Ronald McDonald House is just one example of a place that accepts these tabs and puts them to good use to benefit their program. Read on to see how your family can get involved in recycling for a good cause. If your family doesn’t drink carbonated beverages, find out from your children what else they might collect to recycle. Plastic grocery sacks? Try brainstorming some other ideas; then all that’s left to do is get started today!
• Many Ronald McDonald Houses work with local recycling centers to raise money by collecting tabs from aluminum cans.
• Ronald McDonald Houses collect pop tabs instead of entire aluminum cans because the tabs are pure high-quality aluminum, unlike cans, which consist of aluminum and other alloys. Tabs are also easier to store than whole cans.
• If your local Ronald McDonald House participates in the program, it’s likely cardboard collection containers in the shape of a house have been distributed to schools, community and civic groups and other organizations in your area, as well as at the Ronald McDonald House, local McDonald’s restaurants, local banks and grocery stores. You can collect pop tabs to donate to your House.
• After the tabs are collected, the local RMHC Chapter brings the collection to local recycling centers, where they are weighed to determine their value. One pound of tabs is worth 57 cents, and one gallon of pop tabs (4,175 tabs) is worth $1.49.
• The recycling center then sends the local RMHC Chapter or House a check for the total value. To date, more than 400 million pop tabs have been collected, generating more than $4 million.
For more information visit The Ronald McDonald House website.

Citizenship By The Book

armandoWant a book that infuses culture, citizenship, and compassion with hope and healing into a language arts lesson? Check out Armando and the Blue Tarp School by Edith Hope Fine and Judith Pinkerton Josephson. Although the story is fiction, it’s based on the journey of teacher David Lynch (Señor David) through the colonias of Tijuana, México.

The saga begins with Armando, a young dreamer who yearns to learn but isn’t able to devote time to school because his first duty is to work as a pepenador, a trash picker, to help the family.

As the story unfolds, Papá comes to understand that if Armando is to better his life, he must be allowed to pursue an education, so he lets Armando spend afternoons with Señor David in his ad-hoc classroom (the blue tarp of the title). Armando and his friends are soon learning words in English and Spanish using flashcards, songs, games, and art.

When fire sweeps through his village, Armando loses his drawings but not his dreams. He returns to Señor David’s makeshift classroom and exhibits his feelings about the tragedy with a sketch that draws the attention of a local newspaper reporter. See what happens when Armando’s picture makes the front page.

This bilingual treasure, beautifully illustrated by Hernán Sosa, is filled with enrichment possibilities. As a former language teacher, I love the glossary in the back of the book that can springboard a lesson in Spanish vocabulary. As a counselor, I appreciate the healing effects of art therapy woven into this jewel. And as a character mentor, I imagine the potential for a dialogue about empathy using the Think and Discuss questions on the book’s website. Then, why not finish off the lesson by moving to the Mexican Hat Dance – olé.

Kids in the Kitchen

300px-aebleskiverAs I was making Aebleskiver (or Pancake Puffs as they’re now being marketed on t.v.) for breakfast this morning, it occurred to me that cooking foreign foods is a great activity to get children interested in different cultures. Aebleskiver is a Danish treat; the word means apple slices. My mother, who is also Danish, taught me to make them years ago and I’m working at teaching my children. Here’s the recipe that I use should you decide to go out and buy an Aebleskiver pan to give them a try. We use a knitting needle to turn them, but a pointed chopstick would also work. Encourage students to find a recipe from their ancestors’ place of origin and share it with the class. It’s a yummy way to teach your little citizens about the traditions of other countries.

Standard Aebleskiver

2 eggs, separated
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 T. vegetable oil
1 cup flour
1 cup buttermilk

In medium bowl, beat eggs yolks until light in color; stir in sugar. Stir together remaining dry ingredients; add to egg mixture, alternately with buttermilk. Mix in oil. In separate bowl beat egg whites until stiff. Fold into batter. Pour into lightly oiled Aebleskiver pan on medium heat, turning as they brown. You can fill them with fun fruits or creams once they’re cooked, or add a cube of cheese, some applesauce, or jam while they’re cooking. Enjoy for breakfast with syrup and sausage or as a dessert treat. Yield: 28

The Golden Rule

goldenruleWhile it could also double as the perfect resource for a respect lesson, The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper is a newcomer to the children’s literature market that sheds light on the way that different cultures through the ages have all used the same good-neighbor rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated.

A grandfather and his grandson spot a billboard that reads, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” When the boy asks his mentor what that means exactly, it sparks a conversation about the Golden Rule. From individual people to entire societies, Grandpa offers concrete examples of the Rule in action. So how does this book connect with the Citizenship pillar? Being a good citizen means making wherever you go better because you’re there. The message of this story parallels the concept that practicing the Golden Rule “begins with you.”

Over several pages, Grandpa shares with his prodigy the wording of the universal rule across the different religions, opening up a myriad of extension possibilities in the classroom for reflective discussions, essay writing, and cultural studies. I ordered 6-inch golden rulers for my students and had them imprinted with the message: We measure our character by the Golden Rule. Ask students what the saying means. Students can enjoy even more enrichment by looking for other ways of saying the Golden Rule – how did Aristotle or Confucius say it? – or by re-wording (and then illustrating) it themselves.

Citizenship Rules

signsA good citizen respects authority and obeys the rules. What happens if we decide not to obey the rules at home? At school? On the road? On the soccer field? Why is following the rules so important? Students deserve to know and understand the “why” behind the rules they’re expected to follow. In many cases, it’s a safety issue. Basketball, for example, might not be a safe sport if there weren’t rules and subsequent consequences imposed on those who break the rules. You could say the same for any sport for that matter.

Extend the discussion further by asking if it’s okay to break a rule as long as you don’t get caught. A radar detector is an example of a device that’s used, in some cases, so that people can exceed the speed limit without geting caught. Are there other examples of situations where people might break the rules if they know they won’t get caught. On their tax returns, maybe? At school, I periodically catch little ones on an errand or en route to the bathroom scurrying, okay running, down the hall. They slow down, of course, when they hear, “even when nobody’s looking,.” Was it okay to run until I saw them? Is it ever okay to break the rules? Consider the case of the Nazi Germany. Was it okay to harbor a person of Jewish descent? How about today? Would it be okay to offer work to an illegal immigrant? Use dilemmas like these for an engaging discussion about the role that one’s character plays in following the rules.


Check Out This Book

littrbugdougLitterbug Doug is a wasteful lazy-bones. He’s stinky and he’s messy. And he hates recycling! Not thinking he’s doing anything wrong, Doug throws everything on his heep of trash, including his two cats.

The stench is so strong that even his friends – the rats – can’t stand it. So it goes in Michael Recycle Meets Litterbug Doug, by Ellie Bethel, a sequel to Michael Recycle, until our green-caped crusader comes to the rescue and shows an almost-doomed Doug that it’s never too late to make the right choice.

Michael befriends the lonely litterbug and helps him learn to waste less and recycle more. Just in time for Earth Day 2009, this gem provides some valuable tips in the back to help its readers “Go Green.”

Use it as a springboard to make a conservation action plan with your green teamsters.



A Pledge Is A Promise

4hIf you’re like us, you say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning at school. If you’re in Texas, it’s likely you say the Pledge to the Texas Flag as well. What other pledges do you know? A pledge is a promise that members of a group make to the group, to each other, and to themselves. If you were in 4-H, you may know this pledge:

I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.

They added the “and my world” part during my years as a 4-H member. I remember it so clearly because it’s hard to change something like that once you’ve memorized it the other way. Do you know the Westwood pledge? It’s likely that your school has a pledge as well. Research what other organizations or groups have pledges. What do they promise? If you were to write a Friendship pledge, what would it say? How about a Citizenship pledge? Or a Character pledge? The next time you recite a pledge that you’ve memorized, really concentrate on the words and then ask yourself, “How might my day, my week, my month, my year be different (better?) if everyone were to live out the promises we’ve made in our pledge?”

Parts of A Whole

knitclub09One of the reasons that I like for our Knitting Club to make patchwork afghans is so that students can see how their small part is used to complete the whole. The blanket wouldn’t “work” without each patch, so the individual effort benefits the teamwork product.

So it is in society. Individual citizens working together make communities work. Even if your class can’t knit, you can make a classroom quilt to illustrate this very concept. Use blocks of paper or, better yet, have each student bring in a 7X9-inch swatch of fabric from a shirt or outfit that no longer fits.

Have them write (or draw) about the special qualities that they bring to the class. Bind the pieces together and you’ll have a whole; use it to show how each individual classmate brings something unique to the class family. As a fun twist and to show what would happen if someone were to leave the class – or choose not to be a contributing classmate – you could purposely keep one of the patches out. Unveil the quilt minus the missing piece. After a reflective discussion about what it would take to complete the quilt, attach the missing piece and finish the project as a group. Hang it in the room as a visual reminder that everyone in class is an important part of the whole.

Do A Ditty

Here’s a fun little rhyme (adapted from a School Song) that your kids can recite using the Hand-Jive motions. How do the words of your School Song reflect your character mission?

If you want rights, then listen to me.
You’ve got to take responsibility!
Do your part and you will be
a dependable part of your community.



Recycling Matters

In an I-Deserve-It society with a fast-food pace and a disposable mindset, recycling matters! At Westwood, we offer many opportunities to recycle. Mrs. Matejowsky’s third-grade class serves as our Green Team for cardboard and paper recycling. Students sweep through the school every Friday to empty the smaller blue recycle bins into the large blue bins that ultimately make their way to the big yellow ABITIBI bins out in front of the soccer fields. That program is a win-win because Westwood gets money back from the contents of those bins. We do ask that cardboard boxes be flattened before being put into those outdoor containers.

Westwood now also has a recycling center in the front hallways for old cell phones and ink cartridges. Mr. Wyble periodically takes that container curbside so car riders can drop their recycling in as they’re being dropped off.

Aluminum cans and empty water bottles can be recycled in the teacher’s lounge; Mrs. Miller helps get those items to the proper recycling center.

And this year, Mrs. Ryza’s first-grade class is heading up our Elmer’s Glue Crew club to recycle empty glue bottles and sticks. Additionally, Ryza’s Recyclers are collecting other items monthly throughout the year; here’s the list so that you can put citizenship into action by cleaning out those closets while helping save the environment and donating to a good cause.

Schedule for Ryza’s Recycling
September-tennis shoes
October-old blankets
November-toys (gently used)
December-wire hangers
January-plastic grocery bags
February-cell phones
May-books and magazines