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This Month's Best Practice

Each Month the Maryland Center for Character Education at Stevenson University (MCCE@SU) picks one of the Best Practices from a Character Education award winning school to share with you.


This month's Best Practices is from an award winning school from 2016 - 2017.




School: Stephen Decatur High

Address: 9913 Seahawk Road, Berlin, MD 21811
Principal: Thomas Zimmer
E-Mail: tdzimmer@mail.worcester.k12.md.us

Phone: 410-641-2171


Character Ed. Contact: Mary Berquist

E-Mail: mcberquist@mail.worcester.k12.md.us


Primary Principles Emphasized: 1, 2, 3, & 11


TITLE of BEST PRACTICE: Principle 1: The school community promotes core ethical and performance values as the foundation of good character.



Principle 1: Promotes core ethical values as the basis of good character.


The mission of Stephen Decatur High School is not only to create productive citizens and lifelong learners, but also to create compassionate, responsible, and civic minded community members. We accomplish this through instructional excellence in partnership with family and community and by maintaining a safe, caring, and well maintained environment. We value our partnership with the community and embrace every opportunity to teach our students core ethical values as the basis of good character.

Ask any of our students, past or present, and, without a doubt, each can recite the motto of Stephen Decatur High School: The Decatur Way: The Way to Grow . . . Pride, Achievement, Respect, and Responsibility. Each and every day, it is our goal to demonstrate these values and provide opportunities for our students to grow socially, emotionally, and intellectually with these values as a foundation. Our action plan includes numerous ways for our school team to implement character development

  • Character Education Lessons: Every month, we celebrate a theme for character development. In addition to school-wide mini lessons, we broadcast various public service announcements, and encourage certain behaviors like “paying it forward” or “random acts of kindness.”
  • School Physical Environment/School Climate: Every morning/afternoon our students are greeted with announcements, which are broadcast via our school television channel in each of our classrooms and throughout the school. These announcements typically include a motivational quote of the day, an SAT word of the day, a brief public service announcement with a positive message, as well as important announcements from club advisors, coaches, teachers, and about upcoming events. Announcement always conclude with the message, “I’m ___(name)___ and I’m ___(name)___ reminding you that The Decatur Way is the Way to Grow. Pride, Achievement, Respect, and Responsibility. Have a terrific day everyone.” Additional, in every classroom, every hallway, every office, every multi-purpose room, our school motto is visible. These posters include the words pride, achievement, respect, and responsibility. We use the use the acronym “PARR” to address these values. Furthermore, we have tailored our motto to fit every subject area and every physical area in the school and have posted these posters in their respective areas. Additionally, bulletin boards and showcases adorn our hallways with positive messages that often include our school motto.
  • Honorary Recognition Programs: We have several programs in place that recognize exceptional achievement and behavior for our students as well as our community members and alumni. Three of these programs include our PBIS Student of the Month, our VIP of the Game, and STAR (Students Thriving on Achievement and Recognition). Additionally, teachers recognize students with Positive Referrals throughout the year. Our PBIS Student of the Month program recognizes one student for perfect attendance and one student for exemplifying the principles of the Decatur Way and he/she is drawn randomly from the monthly Positive Referrals. These recipients receive a gift card. The VIP of the Game program recognizes exceptional community members and students who have excelled inside and outside of the classroom between quarters of home football, basketball, and lacrosse games. These honorees receive season athletic passes. Our STAR program recognizes those students who have seen significant gains in their academic coursework. STAR honorees are recognized during a special end-of-the-year breakfast ceremony.
  • Giving back to the community: Last but not least, our school seeks to encourage our students to give back to the community and it celebrates that behavior. Our students are often engaged in service oriented projects including executing food drives, charitable fundraising, collections for armed service members, cards for elderly, and the list goes on. This past year, Stephen Decatur High School students gave over $5,000 to community organizations.

TITLE of BEST PRACTICE: Principel 2: The school defines “character” comprehensively to include thinking, feeling, and doing.



Principle 2: The school defines “character” comprehensively to include thinking, feeling, and doing.

The Stephen Decatur High School SIT (School Improvement Team) actively engages all stakeholders in the establishment of a comprehensive character education program. Beginning with an Action Plan, the school defines character and establishes recognition programs and proactive measures in its effort to reduce overall negative behavior and the number of consequent disciplinary referrals.

This action plan includes Tier II interventions such as our Check-In, Check-Out (CICO) program, which allows students to accumulate “Decatur Credit” when they demonstrate the principles of the Decatur Way. While participating in the CICO program, students have the opportunity to reflect upon their behavior and initiate positive change. Students typically rotate in and out of this program in approximately 6-8 weeks and the CICO coach will track progress for each student for a short time following completion. Our CICO program is very successful.

An integral component of the school action plan are the school-wide character education lessons which are accompanied by public service announcements, activities, bulletin boards, and daily messages. (See Character Ed Lessons) Our character education lessons are designed to bring the school together and unite students and faculty members with a shared vision of empathy, kindness, compassion, and respect through discussion and reflection.

The expectations for our students are consistent throughout the school. To provide students with specific details about what good behavior looks like, we post PARR (Pride, Achievement, Respect, Responsibility) posters throughout the school. Some of these posters include clearly defined behaviors that are specific to the area where the students may be located. Furthermore, all classrooms have “THINK” posters, which is an acronym for thoughtful, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind.


As a culminating character and school spirit activity this year, we launched our inaugural LIP DUB event. This was a school-wide activity that was organized mainly by students with the express purpose of generating school spirit and unity. It began with the desire to generate support for members of our student body who were fighting cancer and it blossomed into a joint venture with the community. We are very proud of the final product.

TITLE of BEST PRACTICE: Principle 3: The school uses a comprehensive, intentional, and proactive approach to character development.



Principle 3: The school uses a comprehensive, intentional, and proactive approach to character development.

Even before the school-year begins, Stephen Decatur High School invites incoming freshmen into the building to acclimate them to the building and our expectations. To facilitate that, we bring in student leaders, members of the National Honor Society, to provide tours, discuss clubs and sports, and host question and answer sessions. We strongly encourage involvement and school spirit, but we don’t just talk about these ideals. Our student leaders are enthusiastic facilitators. This year marks the 15th annual Freshman Seahawk Day.

Our proactive measures continue throughout the first weeks of school as we gear up for our annual Character Kickoff event, which is held at the end of the second week of school. Our Character Kickoff brings community members, students from all backgrounds, and teachers together in an entertaining and inspirational assembly. The event typically includes a PowerPoint backdrop, singing, games, skits, testimonials, video messages, and reflections upon our previous year’s school climate survey. One of our endearing moments this past year was when a teacher and Stephen Decatur High School alum read to his son about the school.

To continue school spirit and school unity throughout the year, we also sponsor spirit days, school-wide pictures, and Dress Days, such as Dress for Success Day.

These activities are all part of the school Action Plan developed by members of the School Improvement Team. (See Action Plan) The Action Plan is developed and monitored by teachers, administrators, and community members. It is also presented to the entire faculty at the beginning of the school year.

Last, but not least, we would be remiss if we did not address how our school handles discipline. First, we use a 3 tiered disciplinary referral approach, which allows students the opportunities to correct certain behaviors without immediate Draconian consequences. Next, all teachers follow a Behavior Matrix, which clearly defines levels of behaviors and how to handle them. This helps maintain consistency throughout our school and provides the opportunity for teachers to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to teaching desired student behavior.

TITLE of BEST PRACTICE: Principle 11: The school regularly assesses its culture and climate, the functioning of its staff as character educators, and the extent to which its students manifest good character.



Principle 11: The school regularly assesses its culture and climate, the functioning of its staff as character educators, and the extent to which its students manifest good character.

One of the most essential ingredients of positive school culture is unity. Unity comes from empowering all stakeholders in the process of school improvement. At Stephen Decatur High School, the School Improvement Team is not only open to all faculty members, but it also invites and solicits opinions from parents and students. One of the ways that the school has been able to collect feedback is through a climate survey. During the summer, members of the School Improvement Team meet to reflect upon feedback, the successes and failures of various initiatives, and study trends and statistics. An Action Plan is developed based upon all of that information. At the beginning of the school year, the team will present essential information to the staff to ensure that everyone is invested in plans for the school. Each month, the School Improvement Team solicits input from the staff, meets to analyze root causes of behaviors, devises proactive initiatives to reduce negative behaviors, and then shares monthly minutes through e-mails and during faculty meetings.


To maintain a positive school climate, all staff members are encouraged to recognize students and colleagues for exceptional behavior. We accomplish this with Positive Referrals for students and Faculty of the Month nominations for staff members.


Last, but certainly not least, we would be remiss if we did not take the opportunity to share one of proudest moments this year. Unfortunately, a few members of our student body were stricken with cancer this year. We sponsored casual days and dress days to raise money for the families, but we still did not think it was enough. So, when a few of our students approached us to lead a school-wide LIP DUB to create awareness, we were all in. Similar to a pep rally, this event was all about school spirit. While all of our clubs and sports teams promoted participation, the entire school demonstrated their “SEAHAWK SPIRIT!” We created an itinerary for a camera to follow down the hallway while students showed their school spirit, threw confetti, and danced along to the music. At the culmination, the entire student body emptied into our stadium to form a human “SDHS” and to do a “crowd wave.” As far as its effectiveness, well, you will have to watch it to understand. In closing, this event truly captures the character of our school. We strive to teach empathy and compassion each and every day and this activity really demonstrated our success in our character development initiatives.


The Maryland Center for Character Education at Stevenson University
School of Education, 1525 Greenspring Valley Road, Stevenson, MD 21153

E-Mail: MCCEcharacter@aol.com