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The group, Critters and Company, Inc., were at Akin Road Elementary School this week to talk about respecting others.

Character-building is a priority at Akin Road Elementary School

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Not everyone associates a green iguana with teasing or harassment, but kids at Akin Road Elementary School now know there is, in fact, at least one correlation.

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The ARES student body learned how two cats got ahold of a green iguana and caused harm to the iguana as part of a presentation Monday by Critters and Company. Critters and Company uses unusual animals, along with stories, to illustrate lessons about how to respect others.

The assembly helped to kick off the ARES character education program, Tiger Pride. It's a program that started this year, school counselor Jacelyn Brand said, and it focuses on a different, positive character trait every month.

A Tiger Pride committee was created this year, as well. The committee is made up of teachers who have discussions on how to incorporate each of the character traits into their everyday curriculum. The staff try to build the positive traits into every subject they teach so those traits are part of the normal, daily learning process. It's something Brand thinks is more effective than just spending a block of time on something like bullying, and then abruptly switching gears to a class subject like spelling or math.

By having the Tiger Pride committee in place, teachers all share the same message, so the students are all learning the same expectations at the same time, Brand said.

"We also have identified expectations for each place around the building. We did something fun the first week of school, where we had different stations at all of these locations. At one station, kids learned what to do and what not to do on the bus. Teachers would show them what was responsible behavior and show them what not to do. That way the kids all got the same message," she said.

The Tiger Pride program also offers incentives for good behavior through something called the Tiger Star Awards. Those awards are given out to students who exhibit the characteristic of the week. They can earn different privileges like telling a joke on the morning announcements or helping with the snack cart. There is even a special table in the lunchroom for students who earn a Student of the Month designation for their behavior.

Next month, Brand plans to survey students in grades 2-5 on bullying. She hopes to find out if there are students who feel they're being harassed, where the weak spots might be, and how to address any problems there may be within the school. She'll take that one step further by going into the classrooms and talking to students about bullying, too.

"Sometimes hearing it from someone else reinforces what the teachers are already teaching," she said.

And sometimes, utilizing outside groups like Critters and Company helps to teach those same messages to students in a different way.

So that's where the cats and iguana come in. The cats were likened to someone who thought it was fun to pick on others; the iguana represented the victim. And the "victim" had a scar to show - a tail of a different color that now marks where he was hurt years ago. The message was presented in a different manner, but it gave students a chance to make that correlation between how animals treat each other, and how they should treat one another.

The Critters and Company presentation was funded by the Akin Road Elementary School Parent-Teacher Partnership.

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Michelle Leonard
Michelle Leonard started covering the Farmington community in June, 1994. Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the Farmington American Legion Auxiliary Unit 189, and acts as the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 
(651) 460-6606
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