Elementary School

Character Development and Life Skills at the Academy

By Ann Spring

The Academy at Belle, in Roanoke, Virginia, is a private school founded and run by a non-profit organization to serve low-income students and their families. The Education Director at the Academy was familiar with The Positivity Project from her years of teaching in Fairfax County Public Schools. She felt it would be a good fit for our students. P2 has introduced to our students mid-year last year, and changes in classroom dynamics and communication among students were immediately apparent. Students did more talking and less shouting. They became problem solvers as conflict situations arose. Team building ideas were suggested by students based on what they had seen other students do in the P2 videos and stories. Of course, the decision was made to continue P2 for the 2021-2022 school year. 

The Academy grows by one grade level each year. This year we serve 52 K-3 students. Our teachers share resources and have woven P2 into their classroom schedules based on the availability of these resources. For some classes, The Positivity Project is part of the morning meeting. For others, it is linked to social studies or part of the settling down process after recess. The students look forward to this time of their school day. In addition to the character-building content of the lessons, students are learning how to effectively share their thoughts while actively and respectfully listening to the ideas of others. This is a life skill that our students are in need of. 

Our youngest learners are incorporating character trait vocabulary into everyday conversation. When asked about the character traits that have been introduced, students express themselves in concrete ways that show practical understanding. When a kindergartner was asked what being present meant to her, she responded with words and accompanying hand motions, “Your eyes are on your teacher, focus and listen. Have your bottom sit criss-cross applesauce. No talking voice.” 

Creativity resonated with the second graders. The week was filled with original doodles and indoor recess creations. One student was proud to share a creation he had made at home using the back of a used coloring sheet. A P2 story that was shown in class the day before was his inspiration. One student gave an explanation of animation as an example of creativity. During a science exploration of forces of motion, a student used colorful paper clips to create “a weave” on a magnetic head. Students had never thought of linking the paper clips before. Soon there were suggestions for creating braids with long strands and other elaborate hairstyles, creating a collaboration that was not part of the original lesson plan but certainly just as valuable. Older students were able to give insightful encapsulations of the meaning of creativity. One student described creativity as making your imagination come true. 

Open-mindedness Week inspired a bulletin board in third grade. Students expressed their willingness to try new things. Some of the experiences that were shared included flying in a plane, going to a museum, and pie-ing someone in the face. New foods were included such as sushi, macaroons, and black licorice. One student would like to live in the same house for three years. 

Our school is small, and our students have experienced challenges in their homes and communities. As a result, the school climate is much like an extended family. It is a place where students can feel safe and respected. P2 has provided a routine structure for showing our students they have limitless potential to make a difference. The delivery of the program is engaging, mindful of student attention spans, well suited to fit into the school day, and elicits thoughtful responses. We have found that P2 aligns perfectly with the mission of our school to break the cycle of generational poverty by providing education and resources and supporting our focus on vital life skills.

Ann Spring

Ann Spring serves as the Education Director and teaches second grade at the Academy at Belle in Roanoke, Virginia. She has taught in public and private elementary schools for over 30 years.