On March 27, Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law a bill that declared September Georgia History and Character Month. The month, initially suggested as only a day, was the idea of Durham eighth-grade teachers Thomas Panter and Mandy Martin, as well as two of their students, Ryan Mulkey and Beth Ann Shires.
After learning that there was already a little-practiced Georgia History Day on Feb. 9, they drafted a letter to state Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Marietta) suggesting a new concept for Georgia Day that would celebrate character and positive choices in September. Thompson liked the idea, worked with Durham teachers and students on drafting a resolution and introduced a bill along with Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Kennesaw). The bill unanimously passed the House and Senate, but they found out Deal had a problem with it.
Initially, Panter said he was worried, but then he spoke with representatives from Deal’s office.
“They said Gov. Deal likes it so much that he doesn’t want it to be a day, he wants it to be a whole month,” Panter said.
The students got to attend the bill-signing ceremony in March, and, now that Georgia History and Character Month is here, the activities continue. On Thursday, Thompson, Tippins, Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) and Cobb Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa attended a kickoff celebration for the new month at Durham. And at 11:30 a.m. today, Thompson said 100 students will come down for an event on the south steps of the state Capitol, in which Deal will re-read his proclamation.
“We’ve invited the state school board,” Thompson said. “It’s nothing but a winning deal. It helps reflect on history and it helps the Georgia Historical Society.”
But Panter said the learning won’t stop when September ends. Throughout the year, the school will invite community leaders in as “Greeter of the Day.” Some of those who have greeted students or plan to include Setzler, Acworth Mayor Tommy Allegood, Six Flags Over Georgia park President Melinda Ashcraft and Cobb Fire Chief Sam Heaton.
Panter said the leaders talk to the students about how they acquired positive character traits and what they have done for others.
“Anytime we can, we bring up core character issues in the classroom,” Panter said. “The goal is character practice. You practice to hit a curveball, why not practice to deal with dilemmas?”
Community leaders also talk to students who have dealt with difficulties each Friday, Panter said. Students also learn about historic figures of strong character like Henry Grady and former Gov. John M. Slaton.
The programs seem to be having a positive impact on the school. So far this year, Panter said in-school suspensions are a fraction of what they were this time in the 2011-12 school year.
“It’s such a friendly, polite, nice environment this year,” he said. “We’ve had so many parents say this is the way school should be.”
Thompson said he hopes such programs go to schools across the state.
“This character thing, I tell you what, it’s really taking off,” Thompson said. “The kids in Cobb County, they believed they could change the world and they did.”