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November 1, 1993
Vol. 51
No. 3

PREP: A Process, Not a Recipe

The Personal Responsibility Education Process helps schools build consensus about which character traits to reinforce.

At Wedgwood School, 5th grade students help kindergartners make bulletin board displays that show “how we are alike.” While reading a story to a class, a teacher pauses to ask how the main character demonstrated “understanding.” Each month, songs, games, and lessons feature a value or character trait.
PREP—the Personal Responsibility Education Process—has brought significant results to Wedgwood School. Office referrals declined by 24 percent over three years, and the number of students achieving the good citizenship honor roll increased to 60 percent. When the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recognized Wedgwood School as 1 of 10 “Gold Star Schools” in 1992, the review panel specifically noted the impact of PREP on the school. Says Principal Jo Ann Jasin: We want our children to learn the basics in academics, of course, but also to develop a positive sense of self and a sense of responsibility to their family, their school, and their community. PREP gives us the opportunity to do that.

Community Support

PREP is a grassroots approach to character education that seeks to strengthen student responsibility. “PREP does not promote one set of values, but it gives schools a process that lets them rediscover their own values and reinforce them,” says Sandy McDonnell, Chairman Emeritus of McDonnell Douglas Corporation and the chair of PREP. McDonnell, in partnership with The Network for Educational Development, helped start PREP in 1988. From 7 school districts, the project has expanded to include 22 districts with 275 schools and 185,000 students in metropolitan St. Louis.
Over 40 local foundations, businesses, and individuals have helped fund PREP. Funds are available annually on a dollar-for-dollar match to school districts willing to commit district funds for institutionalizing character education. Each participating district may receive up to $38,000 over five years from these private funds. In addition, the U.S. Department of Education awarded PREP an Educational Partnership grant in 1992 to help integrate PREP concepts more fully throughout all K–12 curriculums. During the first two years of this four-year program, the federal grant provided over $530,000 to support curriculum training and development by teachers.

Processes for Consensus

From the beginning, PREP has been a collaborative effort, not something handed down from a central office. Each school community that joined PREP decided and defined what character traits they wanted to emphasize. Some common threads such as supporting the family—not replacing it—and valuing diversity characterized each process, but the processes played out differently in each district. A sampling of several districts illustrates the diversity of the processes used and the results obtained.
One huge committee. In the Pattonville School District, a committee of teachers, administrators, parents, community residents, ministers, and business representatives came together to select the character traits they wanted to focus on. Their first rule was that if anybody didn't agree on a trait, they threw it out. The committee reached consensus on 20 traits such as assertiveness, compassion, discretion, and respect. The district then formed the “RECCing Crew,” the Responsibility Education Curriculum Committee, comprised of district teachers and administrators. For the past five years, this committee has been designing K–12 activities and staff development programs that integrate the 20 traits into the classroom.
The focus group approach. In the Ferguson-Florissant School District, the collaborative process began with a series of focus groups composed of parents and teachers. Each group started with the question: What values do you want schools to pass on to our children? In response, each group developed a word list. After the groups compiled their lists, they chose six traits that everyone agreed upon. “We limited our list to just six because we wanted to focus our efforts on a few words people could remember,” explains Karen Proffitt, a district PREP coordinator. The six traits were also discussed with an advisory council and community groups, including ministers and police chiefs.
In the second year, the Ferguson-Florissant District publicized its program through a series of posters distributed throughout the community. Only after that did the district introduce classroom activities around the words. Everyone in each school building is now reinforcing the traits.
Growing toward consensus. The Parkway School District designed its new character development policy to infuse 15 values into children's daily life at school. After surveying the community, a Citizen's Advisory Council recommended the 15 traits and their definitions to the Board of Education. After 18 months, a character development task force appointed by the board reached consensus on a Character Development Policy.
Parkway's approach is site-based. Each building works to increase students' awareness of the traits and of their importance to all of our lives. Character development permeates the entire school district from classroom procedures to food service departments to district administration.
Teacher-led change. In the Mehlville School District, teachers representing each elementary school decided which character traits to reinforce. After meeting to discuss what characterized responsible citizens, the teachers split into grade-level groups and found where in the existing curriculum guides these traits were already presented. They didn't want PREP to be an “add-on,” but a part of what they did with students all day.
To reinforce character traits not already present in the curriculum, Mehlville teachers wrote instructional strategies to teach those traits and correlated them to the existing curriculum, creating a curriculum guide entitled The Fourth R for grades K–6. They then designed staff development for the lessons and developed a traveling library to supply materials related to each lesson. To educate parents and the community about the project, the district held a music festival featuring songs about the traits performed by the students.
Finding bridges. In the Clayton School District, teachers met to discuss what approaches other PREP districts were using and what was already going on in Clayton schools. “If PREP was to become institutionalized in Clayton, it could not be another add-on. We had to find things we were already doing, acknowledge them, and build upon them,” says Lynn Lowrance, PREP Coordinator for the district.
The committee charged with the process decided to focus on one PREP term each month. In Meramec School, teachers designed a program in which each adult in the building forms a “family” or “tribe” with a multi-aged group of students. Each group meets monthly for a lesson centered on a PREP word theme. The entire building meets at the same time, using the same lesson. The program is now being piloted, and it is hoped that by the end of the year the whole building will feel connected and will be reinforcing PREP traits.
Concerned parents in Clayton initially questioned some of the materials chosen to reinforce responsibility skills and drug education. In response, district representatives sat down with them to look at the material. By focusing on points of agreement, the district found the parents agreed on all the materials and traits that had been chosen.
As illustrated in each district's process, the most important element in PREP is collaboration; it has to be a school-community partnership. According to Connie Lohse, an assistant elementary principal in the Mehlville School District and PREP District Coordinator: PREP is not the teaching of values, but learning to value citizenship education and being responsible—it is a matter of reinforcing what's already being done in the homes.You will be amazed to discover how much a very diverse community really agrees upon. Your school can expect to find many character traits it can include in the curriculum with the full support of the entire community.
By fostering collaboration, PREP hopes to nurture students' character while improving their achievement.

Bob Moody has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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