Kentucky schools blend achievement, diversity

Posted May 2, 2010 10:54 a.m. EDT
Updated May 2, 2010 12:20 p.m. EDT

Project Education: Edutopia, a partnership between WRAL-TV and the George Lucas Educational Foundation, features a Kentucky school system that is a national model of student achievement and diversity.

Jefferson County Public Schools teaches social and emotional learning through its district-wide "Care for Kids" initiative.

"There's a pretty complex puzzle that we have to put together to have a successful school. But a foundational element of that puzzle is the culture and climate of that school," Superintendent Sheldon Berman said.

"When students feel safe, when they feel that culture and climate supports them," he continued, "when they feel cared about not only by the adults in the school but by other students in the school, they can do their best."

Students begin each school day with a 20-minute meeting. Sometimes they play goofy games to get to each other better, but the heart of the meetings are discussions about serious issues.

The topics are geared toward the students' ages. Older students might talk about bullying, while younger students are encouraged to say nice things about each classmate.

"It isn't touchy-feeling stuff. It's core social skills that gives students the experience and the knowledge to work effectively with others," Berman said. "This is serious work. It's serious work to create a sense of community."

Carrithers Middle School Principal Alicia Averette said the morning sessions make the academic day go more smoothly.

"Less instructional time is lost, because we're teaching the skills upfront," Averette said. "So when it is time for academics, we're learning, and we're not stopping at various times to address conflicts. It's teaching the students how to have ownership and have voice."

Having good relationships with their classmates also make children more enthusiastic about school, teachers said.

"They're excited. They want to be here," Carrithers Middle teacher Joanna Carter said. "I've had parents say, 'You know, my daughter's sick today, but she cried because she really wanted to come to school. What are you all doing?'"