Schools focus on civility, ethics to create well-rounded students

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Memphis, Tenn. — Students at Christian Brothers High School aren't just focusing on the basics — they are talking about charity, service, respect and ethics.

"I try to say how would I feel if I was in his shoes before I judge anyone," one student in the class said.

Ethics are a big part of the curriculum at CBHS, even for students who may not be of the Catholic faith on which the school was founded.

"Every class here has ethical implications or moral teachings involved. It's part of the culture of the school," CBHS assistant principal Durant Fleming said.

The idea is to make a well-rounded student who not only knows math, reading and science but also, just as importantly, right and wrong conduct and how to treat each other.

"We are more enthusiastic to come to school because we treat each other well and don't disrespect each other," CBHS 10th-grader Garrett Stallings said.

At a time when scenes of youth fights and flash mobs are flooding social media, there is a call for a return to emphasizing ethical behavior.

"Morale training, training on character development, training on morale principals is foundational," Fleming said.

Many said these are things that kids should get at home and schools need to focus on the book learning, but educators said unless behaviors are addressed, all learning suffers.

"When we see behavior problems, we know that not only gets in the way of their ability to learn, but often it's interrupting other students in the classroom. It's interrupting their ability to learn," said Randall McPherson, who handles student behavior at Shelby County Schools.

While there are no ethical classes per se at SCS, he said the code of conduct emphasized throughout the school system sets the tone.

"They are the building blocks," McPherson said. "The earlier we can build the culture in elementary schools to teach the type of behavior we expect in that learning process."

At Richland Elementary School, teachers make sure the message is everywhere on how to treat one another, how to behave and what happens when you don't.

"This is a learning environment. Every student in my class in any classroom has the right to a safe and nurturing learning environment," Richland Elementary third-grade teacher Allyson Chick said.

"Respect the things that are around you. Respect people around you," third-grader  Sarah Cooper said when asked what she is learning about behavior.

Schools admit there are cases in which students still don't get it right, and we see the results, proving all the more need for a focus on learning and leading a better life.

"So we are teaching all those pro-social behaviors they are gonna need early in life: cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy for others and self control," Richland Elementary teacher Dena Ross said.

"If we learn how to treat each other, we can be better people, and that will help," third-grader Paxon Abney said.

SCS is leading the way in a statewide initiative next school year. It will focus on setting standards and providing resources to help students experiencing behavioral problems.