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Cottage Grove Middle named Emerging Minnesota School of Character

Cottage Grove Middle School was awarded the Emerging Minnesota School of Character by Synergy and Leadership Exchange May 10 at the Character Recognition Awards in St. Paul. Accepting the award are, from left, Lori Munson, Chris Foss, Assistant Principal Josh Eidem, Jennifer Strong, Principal Elise Block, Mary Brandvold, Michelle Goar and Assistant Principal Tim Hofmann. Courtesy of South Washington County Schools

ST. PAUL — Cottage Grove Middle School has spent the last two years working to earn the laurels it was awarded May 10, when it was named Emerging Minnesota School of Character.

The Synergy and Leadership Exchange, along with, annually awards schools for showing educational improvement through character development.

Cottage Grove Middle School Assistant Principal Josh Eidem, who worked to head up the school's new program, said education and character are intertwined.

"All of the achievement of students sits on the (school) climate and culture," he said.

Eidam said they've always worked on character with students, but have recently developed a team of staff and community leaders to implement initiatives building-wide.

The team wanted to ensure their middle schoolers to reflect what the community would consider good character, he said, including respect, integrity, commitment, compassion.

To get there, they increased morning advisory sessions — class meetings at the beginning of the day to discuss character and let students connect with each other — from once a week to every day.

"For both kids and staff, it starts the day in a very positive way," Eidam said.

And it's made a visible difference, he said, both in behavior and student achievement.

"The things we're dealing with in the office are different than we're dealing with last year," he said. "The level of conflict between teacher and students is lower."

Schools in Duluth, Forest Lake, Northfield and Coon Rapids won promising practices awards.

Cottage Grove Middle is the only school to win an Emerging Minnesota School of Character award this year.

"We've had to work for it, and we'll keep doing it," Eidam said.