Carroll Middle School isn’t perfect, students and staff will admit, but they readily proclaimed Wednesday to their celebrity guests that’s it is a happy place.
For more than a year, Carroll has used the Positivity Project, a national program based in Pinehurst, that teaches young people how to build relationships with others. Members of the project’s national board – including Olympic gold medal volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings and TV personality Elizabeth Hasselbeck – heard firsthand on their tour Wednesday at Carroll how students are following the motto that “other people matter.”
“Everybody is more open, saying, ‘Hi,’” Vendela Gustafsson, 12, a sixth-grade student at Carroll said at Wednesday’s student panel. “If you drop your books, they help pick them up. Everybody is just nicer to each other.”
Carroll became one of the first converts in Wake County to the Positivity Project. The program is now in 180 schools nationally and 17 schools in Wake County, according to Mike Erwin, the project’s co-founder.
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Erwin said the program is based on the concept of positive psychology, which says that the number-one way to be healthy and successful in life is to build good relationships. This, Erwin said, brings people more confidence in who they are and helps them to understand other people.
Students in the program learn about the 24 character strengths that every person has, including humor, love of learning, open-mindedness, perspective, perseverance and teamwork. Hasselbeck said thinking about the perspective of other people will help deal with issues such as bullying.
“The other people matter mentality is not about the narcissism that we see around us right now in our communities,” Hasselbeck said. “This is the solution, that your perspective matters.”
Elizabeth MacWilliams, the principal of Carroll Middle, said she wanted to use the Positivity Project to help her students deal with the “very polarizing world” and to help strengthen relationships students have with each other and with their teachers.
“We want them to be able to disagree without being disagreeable, and we want them to see the strengths in others,” she said. “We want them to seek first to understand and to be able to work with diverse populations of people.”
MacWilliams has already been a role model by annually visiting the homes of all of her more than 900 students. This effort to reach out to Carroll’s families has earned her national recognition.
MacWilliams said teachers talk about the character strengths throughout the school day. But the school sets aside 30 minutes each day, partnered with lunch time, for students to talk with their teachers about how real-world events are connected to the character strengths..
This week, Carroll students are learning about the character strength of bravery with veterans who fought on D-Day during World War II cited as an example.
“When we get to school in the morning, people are happy,” MacWilliams said. “We’re having fun, we’re smiling, we’re engaging, we’re hugging, we’re high-fiving. We are celebrating each other.”
Victoria Cooke, 13, an 8th-grade student, said students aren’t socially separating themselves by race like at other schools she’s attended.
“When I came here, I saw that everybody was together,” she said. “I’ve seen black people with white people, with Hispanic people. It’s very different.”
What the Positivity Project board members saw Wednesday impressed them. In addition to Carroll, they visited Hortons Creek Elementary in Cary and Lead Mine Elementary in Raleigh.
“I just think that this is a model for what we’re trying to do,” said Walsh Jennings. “I walked into the school this morning and the enthusiasm is off the charts.”