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Character program turns students into leaders

For the second consecutive year a unique initiative at Greenville Middle School trained students to take leadership roles in their school.

The team-mentoring program graduated 30 seventh and eighth graders on Tuesday, following their completion of a special 12-week program that involved volunteers from outside the school system. Volunteers included Mary Love Helms, Margie Kennedy, Chad McGriff, Keith Simmons and Charlene Stone.

The last class was a chance for students to reflect on what they had learned in the program.

“We talked about sharing feelings and about how to respect other people,” said seventh grader Malaka Griffin.

Fellow seventh grader Johnny Jordan said the program taught him a newfound respect for teachers and his fellow students.

“It was a fun class,” he said.

Students watched a DVD each week that introduces specific principles, including respect, integrity, teamwork, self-control, compassion, courage, responsibility, humility, excellence, enthusiasm, and honor. Team-building exercises involved taking part in an experiment that represents one of the principles. For example, courage involved students placing their hands into a bowl of worms, which, it turned out, was only spaghetti. Each class was divided into groups, which then worked with individual mentors.

Superintendent Mike Looney said the program, which largely is meant for students at-risk of leaving school, has been successful.

“Mr. Jai Hill (GMS Principal) told there was only one discipline referral this year from students who have attended these classes,” he said.

Denise May, who coordinated the classes at GMS, said students generally take to the class well.

“For some it may take another year of the training,” she said. “But other students pick right up with it and understand what is expected of them.”

Looney said the program at GMS is similar to what is being conducted at Greenville High School under system graduation coach Willie Thornton. The district’s graduation rate improvement has caught the attention of national media, like CNN, which was recently in Greenville to interview Looney, Thornton, and other school administrators.

Butler County’s graduation rate climbed from 66 percent in 2006 to 77 percent in 2008.