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Apollo Beach Elementary wins national character award

Fourth-grader Nikki Harrell, 9, bottom, received the spirit award for her good attitude and resilience after falling and skinning her knee, but not giving up, as other members of Girls on the Run bring their hands together for a team break after their run.


Fourth-grader Nikki Harrell, 9, bottom, received the spirit award for her good attitude and resilience after falling and skinning her knee, but not giving up, as other members of Girls on the Run bring their hands together for a team break after their run.


The student did not want to wait in the long line, so he just slipped between two kids to put himself a little closer to the front. • He quickly learned that cutting the line is a no-no at Apollo Beach Elementary School. • A stern, yet kind voice piped up in the crowded room and explained to the boy that he made a bad move. It was not a teacher who addressed the youngster. It was another student telling the boy he should be patient and wait his turn like everyone else. • Students at Apollo Beach routinely speak up to correct wrongs. They also know it's cool to be kind, helpful and respectful to others.

The school's encouragement of fostering a positive environment for social and academic learning hasn't gone unnoticed. Apollo Beach Elementary was recently named a 2013 National School of Character for its caring and supportive school community. It is the only Florida school and one of 29 in the country to receive the honor this year.

The school ingrains the message — Act Responsibly, Be Trustworthy, Exhibit Kindness and Show Respect or (ABES) — into every school day at Apollo Beach.

"I have kids telling other kids to behave — not teachers," said school guidance counselor Valerie Dickson. "They'll say we don't do that at Apollo Beach."

Dickson has been pushing character initiatives at the school since she stepped onto campus 13 years ago. The earlier children learn about respect, responsibility, honesty and kindness the better, Dickson said. If we build good kids, maybe we will create good adults, she said.

"They can learn this at an early age and it will guide them through the rest of their lives," she said.

To earn the award, Apollo Beach had to show it followed 11 principles of effective character education.

For example, students at Apollo Beach must write character goals every nine weeks, similar to their reading and math goals. Dickson said some kids feel so strongly about the exercise that they take the message home, taping handmade posters to their bedroom doors or walls.

Girls on the Run is another character-building program at the school. Girls run laps on the school's outdoor track after school but also learn about good foods, healthy friendships and the importance of self-esteem.

Dickson said a school where children respect one another and teachers and show acts of kindness to others really does go a long way. If bullying, poor attitude and discipline issues aren't a problem at a school, then even greater things can happen in the classroom.

"There's more time to learn," she said.

Principal Barbara Mercer is proud of the school. She credits students, parents, teachers and the Apollo Beach community for the national award, saying they work as a team. She added that a student's education is about academics and so much more.

"We also teach them about being good citizens as well," she said. "It's the whole child."

The National Forum on Character Education recognized Apollo Beach in Washington, D.C., recently with an award and banner. The Hillsborough County School Board will honor Apollo Beach at its Nov. 12 meeting.

Monica Bennett can be reached at

Apollo Beach Elementary wins national character award 11/01/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 1, 2013 2:07pm]
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