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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Good manners now, super citizens later
That's the philosophy Karen Mancuso, Spring Hill Elementary School's community services specials teacher, is trying to instill in her students.
By PAULETTE LASH RITCHIE, Times Correspondent
Published November 8, 2007
Spring Hill fifth-grader Marina Cherubi wiggles a plastic snake, hoping to entice a younger student to decide what to spend her school money on. Marina was working at the Spring Hill Elementary store in Karen Mancuso's class. Washington Mutual printed the money for the school store.
[Ron Thompson | Times]
[Ron Thompson | Times]
Spring Hill Elementary School third-grader Briana Belliveau checks a class mailbox while making her postal rounds at the school. Students had to apply for the postal jobs by writing application essays.
Above all, Karen Mancuso wants her students to be excellent citizens.
Mancuso is the Spring Hill Elementary School community services specials teacher. She instructs children from kindergarten through Grade 5 on how to be good community members.
"I reinforce responsibility, manners, compassion," she said recently. And she seems endlessly busy finding interesting ways to do this. "I teach them to take (the lessons) home."
At school, the children are expected to say "thank you." Mancuso wants them to go home and do the same thing, perhaps shocking their mothers by saying "thank you" for dinner.
She wants the children to learn community service and plans to help them adopt a road for cleanup. Parents are going to have to be involved if the project is going to succeed.
Student postal workers
Mancuso spends a lot of time teaching children about communities. Her classroom has a post office. Walkways at Spring Hill Elementary have names like Alligator Alley, Main Street and Melody Lane, with signs courtesy of the Florida Department of Transportation.
To be involved in the post office, students must exhibit good manners and have good grades. They must apply for the positions by writing application essays. Mancuso doesn't choose the students. She leaves that to their classroom teachers, but she doesn't want to exclude students who might be struggling. If they're doing the best they can, she said, she asks the teacher to consider them.
The post office is open to students in grades 3, 4 and 5. Third-graders pick up the mail. Fourth-graders deliver and fifth-graders sort.
Mancuso's classroom has a school store. It is supported by Washington Mutual, which finances the store every month, Mancuso said. "They printed all our money," she said.
There is a man-sized wooden figure in Mancuso's room called Mr. Manners. She uses it to reward and to teach the meaning of regret. If they do something well, the children can put a heart on Mr. Manners. If a child misbehaves, he or she puts a bandage on him. When a child says, "I'm sorry," Mancuso wants him or her to understand the meaning of that.
Once a month, Mancuso arranges what she calls Spirit Nights, evening outings to area restaurants. Parents and children attend and the restaurants have busy nights, full of manner-learning children.
At a recent one, the Spring Hill Elementary principal and some of the teachers cleaned the tables. "We get 10 percent of the proceeds and they (the children) show their manners. The owner was so amazed and so thrilled," Mancuso said.
"They loved seeing (the staff) clean tables. They were out the door waiting to get in," she said.
Mancuso tries hard to get the community to meet her classroom goals. She arranged to have an aviary donated to the school. When the birds got sick, a local veterinarian came by to treat them for a nominal fee. She had the children write thank-you notes.
"I get a lot of stuff donated and I acknowledge it by informing the parents and community," she said. Her first year at Spring Hill, Mancuso got a local business, Joni Industry, to make tokens that she distributed at local businesses that children might frequent, such as the theater, bowling alley, restaurants, even a dentist. When they were noticed exhibiting good manners in the community, the children were given tokens.
The children brought them to school and they kept a chart. At the end of the year they converted the chips to money (also donated) and gave it to the American Cancer Society.
Another community member who comes to the school is Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams, who brings voting machines so the children can become familiar with that privilege.
Always about learning
Lighthouse for the Blind brought in working dogs. "I teach compassion and empathy," Mancuso said. "The children actually work with the dogs." They learn that when a dog is working, they do not touch it.
One year the children adopted a panther from Lowry Park Zoo. They have adopted a grandma and grandpa, Mancuso said. They adopted All Children's Hospital once and all 1,000 children made holiday cards. This year they are looking at doing something similar at Spring Hill Regional.
She had local members of the Humane Society at school. "I use the dogs and cats to teach safety," she said. She wants to do some planting this year and help take care of the school grounds.
"My theme is to bring in the community businesses and involve them in our school and get the parents involved," she said.