ORONO, Minn. (WCCO) – Next month, a school district here in Minnesota will be honored in Washington D.C. for its unique approach to education.

Orono’s school district is one of three in the country to be named one of the National Schools of Character. It’s the first public school district in Minnesota to get the award.

The character-focused education program was implemented several years ago. Since then, school leaders have seen the number of referrals, detentions and suspensions drop by two-thirds.

Social studies teacher Dave Herring says he has noticed a big change in attitudes.

“Kids started saying ‘thank you’ when they left the room after a lesson. Twenty-three years of teaching, that was new,” Herring said. “Now it happens every hour, every day.”

Herring and other teachers, from the elementary level to high school, integrate character building into their classroom lessons. English teacher Sarah Cole says it’s a trait that will take students far.

“It’s really one of the most important things we can give our students after they leave school,” Cole said. “They may not remember everything we taught them in the classroom, but if they can learn to be good people, and take that with them, I think that’s going to serve them really well in the future.”

Orono High School students created a group called Character Counts. Students, like Matt Hirschberg and Laelle Peterson, mentor younger students and work to prevent bullying, among other things.

“You can choose how you want to act, and the character is something that always will continue, so you can always improve,” Peterson said.

Their efforts are one of many reasons why the district was selected for the award.

“This means a lot to our school,” Hirschberg said.

Together, the students and teachers created a culture where academics and acts of kindness go hand-in-hand.

School leaders from Orono will accept the award in D.C. next month. It’s given out by a non-profit called Character Education Partnership.


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