East Elementary Named 2015 CLAS Banner School

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Wendy Sack/CullmanSense
Fourth-grade teacher Kristin Nunn said it best – character is the most important thing that we teach.”
Principal David Wiggins

CULLMAN – East Elementary School (EES) on Monday was named a 2015 CLAS Banner School by the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools (CLAS). Out of 178 nominations across the state, EES was one of only 14 winners.

“The thing I’m most tickled about,” said Principal David Wiggins, “is that this award really goes to the heart of who we are at East Elementary, how we treat one another, care for one another. It’s the core of who we are and what we do.”

The school was nominated for the award by Cullman City Schools Superintendent Dr. Susan Patterson.

“East Elementary being named a CLAS Banner School is a great compliment to the outstanding jobs the teachers, support staff and administration do on a daily basis to provide the very best learning opportunities for our students.” said Patterson. “It is also a reflection of our students’ and parents’ commitment to learning. This is a great honor for East Elementary and Cullman City Schools.”

Wiggins said that as a part of the nomination process, he had to write an essay about one school program that makes EES special. He said it was hard for him to choose just one, but all he had to do was remember a narrative written by a fourth-grade teacher, Kristin Nunn, to nominate a student for a character award.

“The first sentence was, ‘Character is the most important thing that we teach.’ And that is so true!”

Wiggins decided to put forth the school’s Character Education program for the award nomination.  The program focuses on a different theme each month, and each week there is a word/phrase of the week that the whole school focuses on- this week’s word/phrase is ‘Respect for Others.’

The unique part about the EES Character Education curriculum is the GOTCHA program, started by Wiggins. It involves bright yellow GOTCHA cards that are given to students who are ‘caught’ showing good character.

“We give all of the teachers and staff, including janitors and lunchroom staff, every adult, a stack of GOTCHA cards. Any time they see a student showing good character, whether it be picking up a piece of trash off of the ground, helping another student or being polite, they say ‘Gotcha!’ and present the student with a card,” said Wiggins.

When a student receives one, he or she fills out a portion and drops it into the appropriate bucket located on the GOTCHA table outside the main office. Each week, one ticket is drawn from each grade’s bucket. The winners get rewards such as a certificate for a free meal at a local restaurant.

At the end-of-the-year Honors Assembly, during the character awards, there’s a GOTCHA Drawing, where, using all of the tickets from the year, one student from each grade wins a $50 Visa gift card from Premier Bank.

“The kids always do a big drumroll,” laughed Wiggins. “We draw one per grade, and it’s a big deal!”

Each trimester, EES also recognizes students who have been nominated by teachers to the receive the Principal’s Award for Character.

All of the rewards are donated by area businesses.

“What I love the most is that we’ve brought the community into what we do,” Wiggins smiled. “We want our kids to know that our community supports them.”

Another part of the Character Education program that Wiggins is proud of involves the school’s Guidance Office and Guidance Counselor, Crystal Feldner. Every other week, individual classes spend time in the Guidance classroom, learning about topics such as how to deal with bullying and conflicts with other students.

Wiggins credits that, along with the GOTCHA program, for the dramatic improvement in the number of students referred to the office for disciplinary reasons.

“There were more than 200 referrals recorded the year prior to my arrival and the implementation of the GOTCHA program. Last year, 2014-2015, we recorded less than 30 referrals,” he said, beaming.

Wiggins takes enormous pride in everything EES has accomplished, but he shies away from taking any of the credit. To him, it’s all about his students and faculty.

“I am so proud of this award,” said Wiggins, “but it’s not about me. It’s about all of us at East.”

This is the second time that EES has been named a CLAS Banner School. The first time was in 2009. The school will be recognized at a luncheon in Montgomery on March 9.