New programs are coming to Cullman Middle School and Cullman High School in the fall to teach citizenship, character and life skills to the city’s students.
The Cullman City School System hosted a press conference Wednesday to announce the addition of Liberty Learning Foundation’s American Character and Citizen Promise programs to next year’s seventh grade and ninth grade curriculum.
Those programs will join the Hands on Learning program that the city’s second graders have been taking part in for the last several years.
Over the last 20 years, schools began moving away from teaching character and civics to focus more on reading and math, so the addition of Liberty Learning’s middle school and high school programs will help the city’s schools see a renewed focus on character and civics, Cullman City Schools Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff said.
He said he was already familiar with the Liberty Learning Foundation’s programs and was happy to see the city’s elementary schools were already taking part in their programs, and he is excited to see them expand into the higher grades as well.
“I’m excited about not only what they do and have done with our elementary kids, but what’s about to take place with middle school and high school kids,” Kallhoff said.
Liberty Learning Foundation Vice President Brett Johnson said the American Character program will take seventh graders through a course that highlights important American historical figures and lets students learn how those characters identified problems in their own times and worked to address them.
At the end of the program, the students will join together to identify some of the challenges in their own community and will work to find solutions to those issues, Johnson said.
He said that a portion of the program will involve mentors from the community who will come in and guide the students through skills like coordinating a project, delegating tasks and putting together presentations.
“It’s really a host of soft skills that these students will be learning,” he said.
The Citizen Promise program will let ninth graders get involved in the community and learn from community volunteers who will come in and speak about developing essential skills and build character to make students better citizens.
The program is meant to prepare students for the next stage of their lives, whether they want to go to college after high school, join the workforce or just learn how to run their household and manage their finances, Johnson said.
“The bottom line goal for our Citizen Promise program is to prepare the students for what comes after high school, and that is adulthood for all of them,” he said.
Johnson said the Citizen Promise program has been in the pilot stage for the last few years in a school in South Alabama, so Cullman City School System will be just the second school system in the state and the first in North Alabama to offer the high school program.
Johnson said the expansion of the two new programs into the city’s schools could not have been possible without the help of State Sen. Garlan Gudger.
Gudger said he learned about the Liberty Learning program that was already in place in the city’s elementary schools, and after speaking with principals, he realized that those students were being taught important life lessons.
He then reached out to Liberty Learning about their middle school and high school programs, and helped connect the organization’s leadership with the city government and the school system’s leadership.
“My part was easy, it was just getting all of you in a room together,” he said.
Gudger also issued a challenge to the members of the community to support the Liberty Learning programs in the city’s schools by volunteering their time, sponsoring the programs or doing whatever else they can to make sure students are getting the character and citizenship skills that the programs offer.
“It’s going to change the face of the next generation coming out of Cullman Middle School, Cullman High School and the community as a whole,” he said.
Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs said the city’s schools may not be the biggest in the state, have the most money or the best facilities, but the people of Cullman will always work together for their children.
“Whatever we do in Cullman, we’re going to do it properly and right,” he said.
Liberty Learning will be reaching out to businesses and community members for financial support to keep the programs going in the city’s schools, and the Cullman City Council has pledged to match each donation that comes in to support the programs, Johnson said.
Liberty Learning Foundation Founder and CEO Patti Yancey said the goal of the foundation from its start 10 years ago has been to be involved with students all the way through school, from kindergarten to 12th grade, and seeing that happening in Cullman is a very surreal moment for her.
She said when she first founded the organization and was imagining the full program taking shape in the future, she was picturing it taking place in a school system just like Cullman’s.
“I saw — without the label being on it — I saw Cullman City. I saw what y’all have here,” she said. “Because there’s not a person in this room who doesn’t believe in every single piece and component of what we’re doing and what we’re about and how we’re bringing it forward.”