Opelika High Students Begin Summer With Character

Character counts at Opelika High school. Students have finished the first year of a character-building program. Two years ago, OHS used the "Changing Lives" program on a trial basis. It was so successful in reducing discipline problems, they made it a school-wide effort this year.

As students leave Opelika High for the summer, they're taking with them some important life lessons. They've spent this school year learning character-building vocabulary words and definitions as part of the "Changing Lives" program.

"I think you got a bit more out of it just because you knew what the word meant. You finally got to go into detail about what they really meant and how you could build on that as a person," said Patti Plath, a graduating OHS senior.

"Stewardship, responsibility, things they would need to know that they might not have heard. Empathy. Maybe they don't know what that is, so we would do those definitions of the words that really would mean something to them," said Stacy Royster, a senior math teacher at OHS.

A year ago, the program was taught to a select few. It went school-wide after it successfully eliminated many discipline problems.

"Our number of discipline referrals has decreased by approximately 100 from the previous year. If you'll remember that year, we decreased significantly approximately 50 percent of our office referrals," said Stan Cox, OHS principal.

Students discussed character traits, wrote about them in journals and even sent letters telling others how much they respected them.

"I wrote a letter to my mom because she's overseas in Germany. She got a job, and I really appreciate her for being there in my life. If I didn't have her, I wouldn't really be here," said graduating senior Joshua Lockhart.

The "changing lives" program has also reached out beyond the campus. The school system has aired "traits of the week" on local radio stations, and in turn, it has received many requests for the workbooks the school uses. Cox said the character of the city is changing as well.