Each morning at nearly 20 schools, pupils take five minutes to mull
over quotes and aphorisms from philosophers, movie stars, religious
thinkers and fictional characters. The profound words are accompanied
by paragraphs that explain sometimes cryptic proverbs and encourage
students to apply their lessons of tolerance and responsibility
to their lives.
"It's a little bit of time in the morning to get students focused,"
said Robert Loya, principal of Mead Valley Elementary School in
Val Verde Unified School District. "Kids come by and say 'That was
interesting, I think I'll do that.'"
The quotes and explanations are compiled by Leslie Luton Matula,
founder of Houston-based Project Wisdom. Matula created the program
after the Los Angeles riots.
"I wanted to do something to make a difference, to help students
take responsibility for their choices and honor one another's differences,"
she said. "We honor all different races and creeds, economic backgrounds,
genders and ages."
Matula's words of wisdom are meant to add up to more than just quotes
read to students. Daily messages have themes, such as maintaining
a positive attitude, respecting elders or overcoming hate.
"We write every message around a quote, but the message itself shows
students how they can integrate that quote into their lives," she
said. "I ask a lot of questions to encourage thinking." The questions
and quotes have seventh-grader Charles Good thinking.
"It gets me thinking about some of the stuff they say, like don't
put yourself down and respect yourself and others," said the student
at Mira Loma Middle School in the Jurupa Unified School District.
"And everyone listens to it."
Students hear the same line each day at the end of the messages,
"Make it a great day or not. The choice is yours."
That is a powerful concept for students, said Mira Loma teacher
Suzanne Rowland. The English teacher recently asked her students
to write poems about their school, and every student mentioned the
ending quote in their work.
"To them, it's sort of a symbol of the school," Rowland said. "Regardless
of the lesson, they get that line and that's one of the most important
lessons of all."
Nicole Saeli, a Mira Loma seventh-grader, has had more good days
since hearing that sentence of wisdom.
"We have a choice to make it a good day and do our homework and
class work," she said. "Or we can make it a bad day by getting in
Reminding others of that message has been Jonathan Greenberg's goal.
The Lake Elsinore Middle School principal has a plaque on his wall
that reads "Make it a great life or not. The choice is yours." He
also puts the quote on the school's newsletter.
"It makes you know you're responsible for your own future," he said.
Each school implements the program differently. Some, like Mira
Loma, have the principal read the words of wisdom. Others, like
Sequoia Middle School in Fontana Unified School District, allow
students to read the messages.
"Even the kids who can't read well like to do it," said Toni Merante,
the school's language arts chairwoman. "It gives them a bit of notoriety
for the day."
Students and teachers alike take something away from the wise words.
"As adults, you forget you can change sometimes," said Larry Franklin,
a Mira Loma teacher who said Project Wisdom helps him put aside
morning traffic stress. "When she says these things first thing
in the morning, you realize you can change the tone for the day
if you will it."
Themes from the daily messages also carry over into classroom journal-writing
and conversations with students about behavior problems, said Judy
Horan, assistant principal at Norco Intermediate School in the Corona-Norco
United School District.
"When we have kids in the office, we'll often say something like
"All year we've been saying the choice is yours. What different
choice could you have made in this situation?'", she said.
The variety of religious sources that Project Wisdom quotes, including
Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists, have prompted some parental
concerns that children are learning religion. But once parents understand
the concept, they support it, Matula said. "We're taking a historical
perspective, not a religious perspective," Matula said. "We try
to find some common ground to honor everybody. I know that's why
it has worked."
Mira Loma Principal Diana Asseier said that emphasis on different
religions and cultures contributes to a more tolerant campus environment.
"We have a philosophy we try to live, that everybody is safe, equal
and respected," she said. "I really believe the message in the morning
is a major contributor."
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