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Character Development All About Attitude

Mornings at Countryside Elementary begin with a joyful buzz. While visiting a classroom, Principal Jolynne Dobson chooses four kindergarten students to help her test music before playing it over the intercom. Sounds good, they all agree.

Dobson greets students with an enthusiastic “Happy Friday!” over the speaker before cranking up Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” for all 500 students in the kindergarten-through fourth-grade school to hear. Kindergartners dance, clap and smile, receiving a gleeful boost to begin their school day.

Kindergartner Sophia Keiser dances to “Happy”
Kindergartner Sophia Keiser dances to “Happy”

Every morning Dobson plays a song (another recent one was the 1970s song “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night) tied to the current “attitude” embraced by students and staff as part of the Best Bulldog Behavior Be3 Attitudes character development program. The most recent trait was joy.

Best Bulldog Behavior is the school’s Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports — or PBIS — system, which sets common language and expectations around behavior in fun ways. It was revamped in 2014 to include Be3 Attitudes. Since then, Countryside has seen a 53 percent decrease in behavior reports, Dobson said.

“We attribute it to this focus on being very intentional about constantly always bringing up (the character traits), and always making it fresh and new and applicable for the kids.”

The Joy Board goes from classroom to classroom, doing good deeds along the way
The Joy Board goes from classroom to classroom, doing good deeds along the way

Best Bulldog Behavior stresses Be Respectful, Be Responsible and Be Safe. Be3 Attitudes expands on that with different character traits every year. This year’s are:

  1. Be a hard worker
  2. Be a person of character
  3. Be joyful
  4. Be a warrior

Teachers incorporate the attitudes into the classroom with songs, quotes and activities, including random acts of kindness and homework such as writing down ways to bring joy to each other on music paper notes to hang on a bulletin board. Involving parents promotes encouraging the character trait at home, they say.

Spreading Joy Far and Wide

First-grade teacher Melissa Austin has encouraged her students to spread joy in and outside school. For Valentine’s Day, instead of cards for one another, students donated 142 small gifts — called poke prizes — to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital for patients to receive after procedures.

First-graders in Melissa Austin’s class donated poke prizes to give to patients at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital
First-graders in Melissa Austin’s class donated poke prizes to give to patients at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital

“Our whole idea with this theme is we all come together to make a joyful noise to the world,” said Denise Kooiker, mom to third-grader Ezeraya, who organizes the Be3 Attitudes program with Jamie VanderKolk, mom to fourth-grader Beck.

A Joy Board also is sent from class to class, and each class decides how they will pass kindness along. Students have washed desks, helped kindergartners get ready for recess and read to each other.

“They give joy and then get joy in return,” Dobson said.

Fourth-grader Jake Olivier said he and his classmates think a lot about the character traits. “It has helped me be a better person in character and taught me to help out a little bit more,” he said.

Jude Vitarelli, also in fourth grade, said he’s been inspired. “If you give joy, then it passes on to someone else and they pass it on.”



Principal Jolynne Dobson plays “Happy” over the intercom
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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