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Hallway Art Teaches Book-Free Lessons

Artwork in the hallways at Kings Glen Elementary school is the students' original works, complementing the focus on students that counselor Lee Kaiser emphasizes on a daily basis.

The artwork, pictures, mosaic tiles, awards and recognitions are rotated on a regular basis but they all support the character education that has become part of the curriculum at Kings Glen, the only elementary school in the area that has only 4-6 grades.

"I know that it has a positive impact, the atmosphere of the school changed, I see lots of smiles," he said.

Principal Jim Baldwin also sees the impact of student-created art in an area that they see every time they are in the halls.

"They're reminded of these character traits on a daily basis. It's becoming a part of their life," Baldwin said.

Caring, respect, honesty and responsibility are the four traits stressed throughout the halls and it has also been added as the fifth aspect of their education along with math, social studies, science and language arts.

It is not funded under a similar program known as Community of Caring, which is paid for with a federal grant in some schools.

"WE'VE ADDED character education because we feel strongly about it. We want it to be part of the existing curriculum," Kaiser said.

Fairfax County Public Schools information specialist Paul Regnier noted the emphasis on this type of teaching, which doesn't come from a textbook.

"They're also learning to be good citizens," he said.

All the county schools have this type of education in one form or another.

"There are different ways of character education, it's not all the same in every school," Regnier said.

Springfield mother Peggy Valence is a mother of a three-and-a-half year old and an eight-month old. She looks at the potential value of character education.

"I think that's why there's the violence and stuff, kids aren't learning that at home," she said, but it should be learned alongside of the mandatory lessons. "It shouldn't be the primary role of the school," she said.

Fairfax County Public Schools administrator of character education and intervention support John Marston is involved with the efforts in this state-mandated direction.

"It's a very broad concept, we don't have just one method," he said, indicating the basis of this is respect and responsibility.

"There are basic themes, the home should be the major source," he said.

SECTIONS IN THE HALLS at Kings Glen include military mail, cafeteria recognition, safety patrol officers, pennies for the Pentagon and a bookmark contest with the theme being "Safe and Drug Free." They had a program called "Food for Others" around Thanksgiving. There is also a "Top Gator" award which is chosen entirely by the students. The gator is the Kings Glen mascot.

The newly renovated school also has a row of hand painted tiles that were done by past students under other themes. Although the choice artworks are displayed in a prominent place such as in the hall outside the main office, all the artwork is displayed at one place or another. The cafeteria walls are full as well.

Kaiser looks at the long-term effects of building character.

"Many teachers are frustrated by students that don't follow through on their work. If they don't care about themselves and learning, you're facing an uphill battle. The ground work of strong character will build good students," Kaiser said.

Erin Fitzgerald and Adrianna Venzor are two star sixth graders that are organizing a community volunteer group with Kaiser.

"We're trying to tell kids that volunteering in the community is just as fun as playing the PlayStation at home," Erin said.

Adrianna agreed.

"I'm focusing mainly into getting kids into volunteering," she said.

The two 12-year-olds are also getting a quick course in program management as well. Their first instincts were to go right to the bulletin board and put the question right to the students, but other steps had to be taken first.

"I've called numerous places to ask about it," Erin said.

"I'm getting a lot out of this, we're learning to do it all," Adrianna said.

Kaiser knows the value of looking at things positively.

"We're just trying to put a positive slant on things," h