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Segyeong High is training children to be good people

The school’s character education program teaches kids empathy
Sept 03,2016
Students put stickers on the board in which they wrote about sharing with friends and family members as part of a character education class at Seoul Sungrye Elementary School in Seongbuk District, northern Seoul. [SHIN IN-SEOP]
Park Jin-cheol crouched at the final marker like a quarterhorse in a starting gate, tense and ready to bolt.

“Keep it up!” he shouted to his teammate. “We’re almost at the finish line!”

Park was the final runner in a relay race, but he was running on fumes. After charging through a battery of obstacle courses and helping his teammate, Gyeong-su (not his real name), get to his feet after falling off the mattress during a somersault course, he had little left in the tank but sheer will. With Gyeong-su’s help, however, that was enough.

Park passed the finish line, landing a victory for his team.

The race included students from Segyeong High School and was held last Friday morning at an indoor gym at Saeul School in Paju, Gyeonggi, where an integrated education program is held between the two schools every semester.

During the program, students partner up and take classes together. Park and Gyeong-su, both 18 years old, were one such group. They clicked instantly and were soon getting on like old friends. At first, however, Park was anxious about the program.

“I used to have a prejudice against people with disabilities,” admits Park, “I even hesitated to hold their hands, but now it’s different.”

This is because Park’s newfound friend, Gyeong-su, has autism.

Park added, “They’re as much friends to me now as my other classmates.”

In 2010, Segyeong High School changed its name from Paju Technical High School and assumed the task of providing students with character education.

“Concentrating on character education has transformed our school and made us more popular,” said Park Gi-beom, the school’s director of education research. “The core of the program is for the students to learn cooperation, compassion and sympathy.”

The school’s method is not to teach ethics through rote learning, but to give students hands-on experiences that will naturally foster character building. Students have said they have learned the pleasure of helping others after doing volunteer work in Eumseong County, North Chungcheong.

As for Park, he has decided he wants to become a social worker after visiting welfare facilities for senior adults and people with disabilities once every two weeks with his voluntary service club. Park said, “Once you learn how to understand others, you start to fight less with your siblings.”

In this school, students create their own regulations for their classes every year. Last January, 900 students, parents and teachers gathered at Segyeong High School to debate school regulations. The topic, “allowing female students to wear basic makeup,” was rejected by vote. If the voted regulation is violated, an autonomous court is held by a student prosecutor, student judge and student lawyer to determine the level of punishment.

If students have their own personal problems, they consult the “Peer Counsel,” which has a representative in each class. Kim Su-hyeon, an 18-year-old peer counsel consultant, said, “There are many problems solved this way that students are uncomfortable telling their parents.”

She added, “The consulting activity has given me more responsibility and a deeper understanding of other people’s feelings.”

As a result of Segyeong High School’s character education, school violence has decreased from 20 cases in 2013 to none last year. And now other schools are implementing similar programs, too.

Seoul Sungrye Elementary School in Seongbuk District, northern Seoul, has implemented a character education program developed by ChildFund Korea. On July 11, 20 students from the school’s 2nd grade class were paired up and then asked to focus on a map that was placed on their desks.

Shin Dong-hyeon, 8, covered the eyes of his partner, Kim Eun-jae, 8, who was holding a pencil.

“Draw the line downwards a bit and turn a right,” Dong-hyeon said, guiding Eun-jae to draw the map.

“It was scary to have my eyes covered,” said Eun-jae, “but Dong-hyeon’s description helped me succeed.”

Students that day also participated in role-playing games and debates.

“I injured my legs but I made a pinwheel with the help of my friends,” said Lee Gyu-bin. “I used to fight with my sibling over toys, but after this class, I want to make rules for us to have more fun.”

“I helped my mom make acorn jelly,” said Yang Hui-jae.

Kim Yeong-ja, a teacher from Seoul Sungrye Elementary School, said, “The younger children often don’t understand each other’s thoughts, but through activities like role-playing, students can relate to others and their relationships can improve.”

Since 2014, ChildFund Korea has developed experience-based character education programs and has provided them to schools and children’s facilities. Their goal this year is to educate at least 25,000 students across the nation. The program helps students develop decision-making skills by presenting them with scenarios such as “what should I do when my mom’s cooking doesn’t taste good” or “what should I do when my friend bullies me.”

ChildFund Korea’s researcher, Heo Eun-hye, said, “The goal of character education is to improve the attributes we need in our daily lives such as problem-solving and communication skills.”

BY YUN SUK-MAN, BAEK NAM-GYEONG [lee.soowhan@joongang.co.kr]
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