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A Cleveland, NY Elementary School Finds Building Character Boosts Performance

Chris Bolt/WAER News

Public Schools started this week…and one Central New York school is trying to pack in much more than the Core Curriculum.  Cleveland Elementary in Oswego County has a commitment to “Character Education.”

Diane Maw’s first grade students started the day Thursday with a story about a turtle who couldn’t keep quiet.

“In the end, the turtle, Snappy cannot keep his mouth shut and he falls.”

Which leads to a lesson on self control.



Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News
Teacher Diane Maw and her first grade class use a story to discuss issues of self-control.

  “Most of them related it to riding a bicycle, trying to ride with no hands, riding a skateboard.”

And that little bit of six-year-old introspection Maw says, can set a foundation.

“It lends itself to further discussions, where I will relate back to Snappy. And Say ‘remember when he lost control.’”


The story comes from the Wisdom Thinkers Network’s Stories to Light Our Way.”   Fourth grade teacher Helen Bolen finds the discussions can engage students for other parts of the curriculum.

“At this age, 9- or 10-years-old, they appreciate that I am interested in what they think.  There’s a lot of power in that.  I’m not just giving them information; I’m forcing them to think about the information.”

The simple messages teach tolerance, compassion, problem solving…and might include diversity of cultures and religions.

“I think they’re starting to realize that there’s something out there bigger than they are, their little community.  And this is great because it’s multicultural and we don’t have the diversity here.”

Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News
Principal Michael Smolnik (right) uses character education materials from Ralph Singh's Wisdom Thinkers at Cleveland Elementary, where values and expectations are very public.

Cleveland elementary principal Michael Smolnik talks about creating citizens…that benefit the community…which he says has brought support and pride from the residents.

“I know there’s tremendous pressure there in terms of graduation rate and getting kids college and career ready.  But a lot of these things have provided us with that foundation of caring and trust and school connectedness, which again, in turn, allow us to push the limits academically.”

Smolnik says it all can also make students more connected to their schools and education…and he believes character education is a national movement. 


Cleveland Elementary’s success was rewarded as a 2010 national Blue Ribbon School by the US Department of Education for academics…and named a 2013 National School of Character by the Character Education Partnership.

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.