Cindy Zahrte

Cindy Zahrte

Last year the Coulee Region Whole Child Initiative was established. This initiative, under the direction of Patrick Clements and with the support of business owners like Dave Skogen of Festival Foods, is designed to help schools build a culture of kindness, service and empathy. Employers in every community want to hire individuals with strong character. Business owners often comment that the work skills needed for a job can be taught “on the job.” As employers, their larger concern is ensuring that the individual hired is a person with strong character − a person who cares about others and is willing to do what is necessary to get a job done right. How do we teach this in school? How can schools create a culture in which students graduate not just capable but also compassionate?

The Tomah Area School District committed to begin this process, along with over 30 other schools/districts in our area, back in April when Amy Rezin, an English teacher at Tomah High School, and Angie Plueger, the high school dean of students, attended a Character Strong training. This training provided our school district with a curriculum for a leadership class at Tomah High School that is being taught this semester. Building character doesn’t just happen. It costs time, energy, and effort − just like building any other skill. Students need opportunities to practice intentional acts of service and compassion in order to build solid skills that will become life-long habits. Our students also need to develop a growth mindset and resiliency skills to assist them when times get tough.

We need to ensure that all students who graduate from Tomah High School believe that they are a leader and that they can make a difference in our world. The words of President John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” seem to be drowned out today by a flurry of cultural messages which focus on “it is all about me” and “what have you done for me lately.” It takes thoughtful intervention and education to help our young people understand that they have a responsibility to help make our world a better place. It takes opportunities for our students to discuss and reflect on their daily actions and whether they made a contribution to the “greater good.” How many of us have asked our children at the end of the day, “What did you do for others today?”

The Coulee Region Whole Child Initiative has assisted us and other schools in obtaining the Character Strong curriculum and supports the idea that when we teach the whole child, the whole school benefits. Research shows that when a school takes time to cultivate a culture of character and assist students in the development of social and emotional skills, academics improve and problem behaviors decrease. We are grateful to the Coulee Region Whole Child Initiative for its support of our schools. We are appreciative that Rezin accepted the challenge to begin teaching the leadership class at Tomah High School with support from Plueger. We are excited to see how the Character Strong curriculum can improve the culture at Tomah High School. We want every student at Tomah High School to feel safe and supported. We want every student at Tomah High School to value kindness, service and empathy. We want all students at Tomah High School to graduate as capable and compassionate people, believing in their ability to serve as a leader and make positive change in our world. There can never be too many character strong kids!

If you have any questions or comments about the information and opinions expressed in this edition of The School Bell, please contact Cindy Zahrte, district administrator, at cindyz@tomah.k12.wi.us or 374-7002.

Cindy Zahrte is the Superintendent of the Tomah Area School District.

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Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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