by Annie McCallum Bitter - Montgomery Advertiser

A new mentoring program at T.S. Morris Elementary School for its male students, aimed at giving children role models and teaching etiquette, has earned the Montgomery school a national honor.

Morris was among 242 schools recently dubbed by the Character Education Partnership as 2012 Promising Practice Award winners. Morris is the only Alabama school to earn the distinction.

The Character Education Partnership, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, “supports the social, emotional and ethical development of students” by giving schools the know how to teach character education.

“I was so surprised,” said Morris teacher Debra Cox, who is also the school’s character education representative. “I was afraid we wouldn’t get accepted because this is the first year. It’s just a testament to the men who run this program.”

Cox said the mentoring program started this year and is coordinated by several of the school’s male teachers. At the start of the school year, they selected 25 fourth- and fifth-grade students to participate.

The group has participated in a variety of activities this year, including a Thanksgiving food drive and creation of a black history program video. Students also held a Valentine’s Day surprise party for female teachers in which they escorted them to the party and presented them with a rose. Students also participate in etiquette classes and once-a-month dress up in black ties and button-down shirts.

Next year, officials said they hope to expand the program by 30 students.

To receive the Promising Practice Award, schools must develop and implement a distinct character education initiative. The Character Education Partnership will honor the 2012 award winners in November at the National Forum on Character Education in Washington.

Cox said when she found out about the school’s status via email last week she literally jumped for joy.

“We were all just overwhelmed we were recognized. … It’s such an honor. They have worked so hard to set a good example,” Cox said of the teachers coordinating the program.

She said the group’s sponsors are gentlemen. “They are trying to teach boys to be gentlemen, too.”

Pam Morgan, Character@HEART executive director, said she had encouraged the school to apply for the award because mentoring for young boys is so critical.

She said the program promotes good character and gives young men good role models.

“At Character@HEART we are committed to helping children to develop good character. We want them to grow up and become productive, contributing citizens in our society,” Morgan said. “It’s so important that we reach out and start teaching good, strong character traits.”