Region 16 school board approves Project Wisdom

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REGION 16 — Starting in January, Region 16 students will begin each school day with a pearl of wisdom to contemplate.

The Board of Education approved implementing the Project Wisdom program for each school in the district, which covers Beacon Falls and Prospect, at its Dec. 12 meeting. The program involves guest speakers coming into the schools and reading a brief message in the morning, provided by Project Wisdom, during the morning announcements. The messages — some brief stories, others that ask students to imagine certain situations or scenarios — are themed around specific topics such as bullying or peer pressure. Each message provides a moral and ends with the following statement, “Make it a great day . . . or not. The choice is yours.”

The program is intended to build character and comes with lesson plans that teachers can use to reinforce the message throughout the day. According to Project Wisdom’s website, the program is licensed in more than 16,000 schools across the country.

The total cost of the program is $1,940 for site licenses for each school for one year. The money for the program will come out of student activity funds.

Approval of the program did not come without debate, as the board backed the program by a 5-3 vote.

Board members William Fredericks, Robert Hiscox, and Nazih Noujaim voted against the program.

Fredericks felt the program wouldn’t benefit the students and that many students will tune the messages out. He said it’s important children have a value base, but that if it’s not reinforced at home the messages won’t help.

Superintendent of Schools Tim James felt if the district didn’t try to provide students with some moral compass, it would be a disservice to the students.

“If 20 percent of the kids get something out of it I think that’s a good deal,” James said. “If we don’t do it, we’re going to get 0 percent.”

Fredericks argued the district could do a better job of teaching values through more traditional means such as literature read in the classroom.

“We already have the means to teach our kids values,” Fredericks said.

Board member Wendy Oliveira said she likes that the program comes with plans teachers can use in their lessons during the day. She agreed that some students may tune out the messages, but felt there is enough backup built into the program to reinforce the message during the day.

James added that a side benefit of the program is that it brings people from the community into the schools, which offers school officials the opportunity to show off what they’re doing.

“Getting people in our schools any chance we get is a good thing,” James said.

The program won’t be new to all the district’s schools come January.

Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls has run the program for the past four years, Principal Regina Murzak said. She feels the program would absolutely be a benefit to other schools.

“I think it’s important the students hear positive messages on a daily basis,” Murzak said.

Murzak said she learned of the program after it was run in her children’s elementary school. Aside from providing uplifting and positive messages, Murzak echoed James’ sentiments about the benefit of bringing people from the community into the school, including parents and local dignitaries, to read the messages.

She said the messages have gotten through to students, some of whom have adopted the program’s mantra. She said some children will now say, “I’m choosing to make this a great day.”

The district will run the program for one year starting next month. A survey will be given to teachers and students to be completed by November to help determine whether the program had an impact. The board will then decide whether to purchase series two of the program for 2014.