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County Honors Woodley Hills' Character

When supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R-Dranesville) was on the school board eight years ago, fellow school board member Kris Amundson invited him to visit a "different type of school" in Mount Vernon.

"I was shocked to see what I saw eight years ago," Mendelsohn said of Woodley Hills Elementary school.

At the Jan. 28, Board of Supervisors meeting, Mendelsohn was pleased to see that Woodley Hills had not only turned itself around, but done so with distinction. The Board had invited Principal Rima Vesilind and other Woodley Hills staff members to the Government Center to receive a certificate in recognition of the school being named one of eight 2001 National Schools of Character.

"We have really changed the way the school responds to things and the way that students respond to things," said Vesilind of its character-building approach. "It's a very caring, respectful and responsible school."

The approach of the Woodley Hills staff was to teach each student how to interact in a respectful manner.

"Even with discipline, we deal with discipline in a character-driven way," Vesilind said. "We help the child realize what they did, how it affected other people around them, how what they did was a negative and what they could've done differently."

Vesilind credited this approach with improving conditions at the school. "We don't have any major difficulties with discipline anymore," she said. "We haven't had a single fight this year and it's January."

Vesilind described the character award as an affirmation that the Woodley Hills community had succeeded in adopting character education.

"We've been able to change our school and our community," said Vesilind. "Because the school is better, the community is better."