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Great Valley Academy grades on citizenship
A school bake sale was one of the Great Valley Academys recent activities to raise funds for special needs in the community. Parents and students alike were involved in the event. - photo by Photo Contributed

Character building is so important at the newly Great Valley Academy Charter School that its 435 students receive a second report card measuring their individual growth in that discipline.

Russell Howell, principal of the tax supported public Charter school, said that children are guided to extend courtesies to other kids who really need it as wells as to parents and do teachers.

Howell said the two page character report card is evaluated three times a year between individual students, their parents and the teacher. 

It is based on the premise, “Do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do.”

“What is neat, too, is that prior to these (character reports) going out, the students do a self-assessment.  They take the time to look at what we are trying to develop and they can see where they are strong and where they are weak – a process of recognizing what their character really looks like,” the principal said.

Howell pointed out that the evaluations give a comparative statement of what is finally expected from the students. 

“We really try to make it concrete to what it does look like to have a strong character in those areas,” he said.  “It’s self-acceptance, thankfulness, respect, responsibility, kindness and helpfulness.”

The school’s grading scale for academics and character are the same using three letters:  A, B and N.  B is competence – it’s mastery.  A is reserved for students who go above and beyond and an N means “not yet” as there is more to work to be done in a given field of study or character building.

The academy located on Button Avenue, paralleling Highway 99, has 16 classrooms with grades kindergarten through eighth. It opened last summer.   Spanish, music and PE teachers go into the classrooms twice each week teaching those electives.

The individual classes are urged to become involved in special events that help the school and the community. It’s all about making a difference at school and throughout the community, the principal said.

One class had a “PJ Day” recently where they wore their pajamas to school as part of a drive to collect and to provide PJs for children less fortunate, donating them where they would do the most good.

Another event involved a bake sale at school.  After the conclusion of the successful sale of cookies, muffins and cakes, second graders visited the Second Harvest Food Bank for a tour of that facility in the Industrial Park in south central Manteca.

At the end of the tour, seeing the collection of food stuffs in the warehouse, the boys and girls donated the money that had been earned in their bake sale to Second Harvest.

And, just before Christmas one of the third grade classrooms initiated a Christmas card making program sending some 300 handmade cards to the young Children’s Hospital patients in Madera.

“Our older students work with our younger students,” Howell said.  “We have already begun to see the results of that.”

Parents are asked to volunteer at the charter school under the direction of the teachers.  They plan many of the events, some that have already taken place in the first semester and work one-on-one with individual students and with groups.

The principal said his entire day is devoted to mixing with the kids throughout the campus, and not spending much time in his office.

“My role is to support teachers and to support the kids, so it’s all very hands-on.  That gives me the opportunity to model this (character) for the kids.  It’s not about punishment – it’s rather about having a very high standard and holding the kids accountable.  It’s about guiding them in that process and (showing them) how they can work through conflict – how to demonstrate character.  It’s in those moments where conflict has arisen where you have the greatest opportunity to really teach them how to respond to that,” he said.

 “We’re excited about what we are doing,” Howell added. “One of our tag lines is ‘Safe, Love and Learning.’  If you get the kids to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, you have accomplished much.”