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The foundation of character building

The Hi-Five program instructs students to think before they act out.

By JONATHAN ABEL
Published April 2, 2007


BROOKSVILLE - Nine-year-old Joseph Stoddard learned that kicking and biting are bad.

Morgan Taylor, 8, learned the definition of empathy: "You're supposed to look people in the eye and not daydream off."

Erik Feltch, 8, learned it's important not to steal.

Joseph, Morgan and Erik are students of Hi-Five Hernando, a program run by Eckerd Youth Alternative, where teachers go into the classroom to instruct kids on values and good behavior.

On Saturday, Hi-Five Hernando celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a picnic and party at Lonnie Coburn Park.

The event brought together about 40 kids, in addition to parents, teachers and deputies. There was face-painting, a barbecue and games.

Kalob Patton, 19, was one of the few alumni of the program to show up. He was in the first class of students to go through the program 10 years ago at Moton Elementary School.

At the time he was in the Exceptional Student Education program. His mother, Ginger Patton - now a Hi-Five teacher - said that he lacked self-confidence and had trouble with reading.

But after six weeks of help from Hi-Five, he was much more confident and focused. He became his class's most improved reader and was moved out of the ESE track.

Now Kalob is a college freshman and the techniques he picked up in the Hi-Five program are still serving him.

"If I get mad, I count backward from 10," he said. "I still use that today."

Hi-Five currently teaches students at Moton and Westside elementary schools about empathy, impulse control, problem solving and anger management.

But Hi-Five also does a lot of work outside the classroom. During the summer, it runs the Hernando Sheriff's Office summer program for kids.

About 600 kids in Hernando County benefit from Hi-Five every year, said Tanya Steele, director of Hi-Five in Pasco, Hernando and Marion counties.

"Self-esteem. Confidence building. That's the No. 1 issue for kids," said Michael Hensley, chief deputy at the Hernando Sheriff's Office and a member of the community advisory board for Hi-Five Hernando.

The program is so successful, he said, because it brings the lessons and values of a residential camp program into the schools without taking the kids away.

Hensley said the numbers bear out its effectiveness.

Robb Feltch, 45, brought two of his kids to the event and couldn't say enough about how it had helped them think about their actions and respect their peers.

"Every parent in the school should be here," he said. "If we don't help our kids now, who's going to take care of us?"

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com.