Linda Jacobson

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Education Week


Monica Viega describes what went on in her classroom earlier in the school year as "Jerry Springer fights." Displays of anger and incivility among the 5th graders sometimes grew so intense that furniture would get tossed across the room. But the scene in Ms. Viega's classroom no longer resembles a raucous daytime talk show. Every morning, her Blalock Elementary School students sit in a circle and discuss how they treat one another. They talk about what they see on the television news and about keeping drugs and violence out of their neighborhoods. "This amazes me," Ms. Viega, a first-year teacher, said before the end of school this spring. "These are tough kids. I used to have to pull them apart." She and other staff members credit the school's three-year involvement in a character education project with making Blalock a less hostile place. The 540-student school, part of the Atlanta school system, serves the Bankhead Courts housing project on this city's northwest side. It is one of 28 pilot sites in the state to receive grants from the Georgia Humanities Council to develop a character education program. Blalock's program has received funding since 1996.