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Dundee earns state award for character

    DUNDEE—The state chapter of the National Character Education Partnership has recognized Dundee Elementary for the STARS (Students Taking Asset Responsibility) program in place at the school. Dundee was one of 10 schools in the state to be honored last month as an Emerging School of Character for 2012.
    Pam Rapoza, the current STARS coordinator, said the initiative is school-wide and has existed for at least six or seven years. She explained its purpose is to identify students who are role models. Members of STARS are students with character and behavior who set an example to the rest of the school of what a leader should be.
    Everyone in STARS gets appointed to join the group by an elementary school teacher. Rapoza said a new group of students get inducted for each quarter (10 week period) of an academic year and there are usually around 20 participants at a time. She mentioned the reason for rotating the members so frequently is to give as many individuals as possible a chance to get involved with the program. “We look at it as an opportunity for kids to become role models,” says Rapoza. However, Rapoza did note it is possible for someone who is in STARS during one quarter to get appointed again. She also mentioned that everyone who gets inducted is in fifth or sixth grade so younger students can learn from someone older about the characteristics that define a good role model.
    According to Rapoza, there are “many components” to STARS. She said one of the group’s responsibilities is running school-wide meetings once a month. These meetings give students a chance to discuss the good and bad within the Dundee Elementary community and if any measures should be taken to make things better. STARS members also go to different classrooms and organize role-play scenarios for students to take part in. Rapoza noted the purpose of this activity is to prepare people to make difficult decisions if they ever come across a controversial situation such as witnessing an act of bullying.
    Along with running meetings and speaking to classes, STARS students also help put various social events together for the school. Rapoza mentioned this is part of the “work hard, play hard” theme that defines the initiative. Gatherings recently run by STARS have included roller skating parties, fundraisers and community service activities such as helping pack backpacks.
    Rapoza said the school has not received anything for the award yet, but they are expecting a trophy or plaque to be delivered in the near future. She also noted that she believes there will be an upcoming awards ceremony in Albany though the school is awaiting more detail on the matter. Rapoza referred to the award’s application process as requiring a lot of time and effort. The main part of applying for the honor is identifying how the school exemplifies the Character Education Partnership’s 11 principles of character education. Those principles are promoting core values; defining character to include thinking, feeling, and doing; using a comprehensive approach, creating a caring community, providing students with opportunities for moral action, offering a challenging curriculum, fostering students’ self-motivation, engaging staff as a learning community, fostering shared leadership, engaging families and community members as partners and assessing the culture and climate of the school. Rapoza discussed how she had to give detailed descriptions on how STARS represented the characteristics. On top of that, she had to provide evidence to the state’s chapter of Character Education Partnership such as pictures of STARS members being involved in leadership activities.
    Rapoza spoke about how Dundee Elementary is even hoping to build on their current success and eventually win a School of Character Award at the national level. She mentioned that national awards can also result in receiving grant money. For the meantime, Rapoza said she was very happy about STARS’ accomplishments. “I am very proud of the STARS program,” she said. “It is very comprehensive and means a lot to our school.”
    Principal Laurie Hopkins-Halbert also expressed excitement about the school’s recent recognition. “We are absolutely proud of our students and our STARS group works extremely hard to make our school a great place to be,” she stated. “I think everyone in our school working together leads to being successful and we have a great community.”



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