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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 9:23 pm | Fair 50º


Harding School Cultivating a Climate for Top Scholars

Rewards for academics, character coax student achievement at all grade levels

Noozhawk’s note: Noozhawk and givezooks! are proud to participate in a project to replace Harding School’s hawk weathervane, which was stolen earlier this summer. Read on to learn how you can help.

Ellen and Gary Bialis approached Harding School Principal Sally Kingston in 2007 with an idea for a Top Scholars program to inspire students to excel in academics and develop character.

Today the program awards the top sixth-grade girl and boy with a laptop computer at the end of the academic year.

“The first year we did it they were shell-shocked,” Ellen Bialis said of the program’s culmination, which was kept secret from the students until the awards ceremony.

The top sixth-grade students also receive the Thomas Armstrong Lamp of Learning Trophy. Armstrong was Gary Bialis’ mentor in the investment business and played a big role in the couple’s financial success, Ellen Bialis said.

“I think he’d be honored,” she said. “He really was a perfectionist.”

The Bialises have been active at Harding School, 1625 Robbins St., through their family foundation because of their friendship with recently retired kindergarten teacher Molly Presser. They annually donate $3,000 for the program’s awards.

The top boy and girl in grades kindergarten through fifth grade also receive a medal and a set of hardbound books at the end of the school year.

“We think competition is a good thing,” Ellen Bialis said. “I think it has to start somewhere. Why not at the elementary level?”

Before the Top Scholars program was started, Kingston had already started Character Counts, which recognizes students for exhibiting certain character attributes like being principled, open-minded and a risk taker.

These are among 10 attributes in the learner profile that is encouraged by the International Baccalaureate Program that Kingston is developing at Harding.

“Exclusivity in a way makes (being a Top Scholar) more desirable,” Kingston said.

Harding staff members encourage students to be Top Scholars on a weekly basis by handing out slips to students who show proficiency in academics, excellence in social skills, excellence in work habits and attributes of the IB learner profile, Kingston said.

The students then write their names on the slips and drop them in a box in the school office. Every week a name is drawn from the box and announced over the intercom. That student’s entire class is then released early from its last class of the day for 15-minute recess supervised by Kingston.

The “principal’s recess” helps ensure that all Harding teachers are making similar efforts to recognize their students, Kingston said.

“It motivates teachers to get 15 minutes before dismissal,” she said.

The Bialis Family Foundation has also donated microscopes, a classroom rug and playground equipment to Harding.

“We hope that (the program has) made a difference and that it will continue to make a difference,” Ellen Bialis said.

Click here to make a tax-deductible online donation to the Harding Hawk Project through givezooks!

Click here to join the Facebook group, Bring Our Hawk Home.

Related stories

» Drive Takes Wing to Replace Harding School’s Stolen Hawk

» Leading Off: Can a Weathervane Really Make a Difference at a School?

» Harding School Has a Proud History, and a Bright Future

» givezooks! Makes Online Nonprofit Fundraising a Social Event.

Tomorrow:  Harding students, teachers learn mathematical reasoning in summer math lab run by UCSB

Noozhawk intern Daniel Langhorne will be a junior at Chapman University in the fall. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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