SPOTSWOOD, NJ - Four years ago the Spotswood School District's Memorial Middle School embarked on a journey to become a New Jersey School of Character. Last year, the sixth through eighth grade received an honorable mention along with 13 other Garden State schools. This June, Memorial was named a Promising Practices school along with 246 other schools across the nation.

"We are extremely proud to recognize the schools and organizations that have developed and implemented a Promising Practice," said Dr. Arthur Schwartz, President of Character.org. "Each of the programs and initiatives have demonstrated significant impact and strongly align with the principals that help schools and organizations create a culture of character."

Memorial will be honored along with the other recipients at Character.org's National Forum in Washington D.C. in March. In addition to being recognized, Memorial has also been asked to present the two Promising Practices that earned the middle school national recognition.

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"They named us a Promising Practices school for two different practices we have in the building," Memorial Middle School Brian Kitchin explained.

Memorial was named a Promising Practice school for its program aimed at addressing students struggling with their academic subjects. The other is a peer mentoring program for the staff designed to help teachers improve their teaching through utilizing the large pool of educational expertise in the building. The struggling learners program was just implemented this year while the staff peer mentoring program has been in place for the past three.

Memorial started the newest program in the fall by identifying students in danger of failing one or more of their academic subjects. Each struggling student was assigned an in-school mentor. The students also had various check-ins with teachers throughout the marking period along with increased communications between home and school. Parents and guardians received an academic concern report each marking period if their child was in danger of failing.

"Between the increased communication and the student mentoring program that we had," Kitchin said. "We saw a drastic increase in academic performance for those students. Eighty percent of them saw an improved grade the following marking period."

Kitchin and the Leadership Team he implemented when becoming principal at Memorial in August 2017 saw less failing grades in marking periods one through three when compared to last year after beginning the struggling learners program. With the success of the program, Kitchin said the school will assign struggling students a mentor as soon as the 2020-21 school year begins instead of waiting until the end of the first marking period.

Memorial's peer mentoring program for its staff began shortly after Kitchin became principal. His newly developed Leadership Team crafted a rank-your-strength-survey based upon the 10 observable traits of a teacher in the classroom. Each teacher was then asked to complete a survey rating themselves on a scale of one to 10. Afterwards teachers were asked to focus on improving their bottom three areas during the academic year using the collective knowledge and expertise of fellow staff members.

"It really created a collaborative environment where everyone was helping each other," Kitchin said. "One thing we always say to our staff is that we are our greatest resource."

"When I go into classrooms to do observations of teachers," Kitchin continued. " I'm regularly seeing activities that my staff is learning from one another and a lot of it is tied to this program."

Normally, there is a special ceremony for the schools recognized for their Promising Practices by Character.org., however because of the coronavirus pandemic, schools were notified by email. Kitchin and the Memorial staff are proud of their accomplishment, but are even more excited by the prospect of presenting at the upcoming national conference in March in D.C. They also remain focused on their ultimate goal, which is to become a National School of Character.