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'Choose Civility' campaign working, schools chief tells City Council
Students in Stanislaus County are behaving with more civility these days, thanks to a campaign urging them to "Choose Civility," said Superintendent of County Schools Tom Changnon.

"The good news is 'Civility' in year one has really had a tremendous impact in Stanislaus County," said Changnon who was before the Ceres City Council on Monday to give a report on the first year of the program. "The bad news is we have work to do; we still need to focus on it."

The Stanislaus County Office of Education, under his leadership, embarked upon the civility campaign in 2010 after he witnessed adults acting rudely at a local School Board meeting. Changnon and numerous leaders chose 12 principles - found in P.M. Forni's book, "Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct" - on which to focus.

SCOE then began selling the idea to all schools in the county, asking administrators, teachers and parents to impress on youngsters 12 core principles, including being respectful and listening to others. Business and civic leaders were also included.

Changnon said the campaign is designed to:

• Create stronger neighborhoods.

• Practice civil dialogue as critical in decision making processes.

• Have adults serve as role models for youth so they understand the role of civility.

Changnon said in a society that is increasingly becoming "uncivil," individuals can help one person at a time. He has brought in business leaders to use civility concept into the workplace.

"It's not just for students; it's a countywide initiative for everyone."

As an example he said Doctors Medical Center is talking with its staff about being more civil with patients and the public.

The work must continue in schools, he told the council. Changnon said a survey of high school students revealed that 59 percent feel their schools are unsafe. Part of the reason, he said, is bullying which is a widespread problem.

"How can you really establish a learning environment when students and staff don't even feel safe in their owns schools?" questioned Changnon. "So that's what we're really focussing on this year and a lot of that has to do with bullying and it's unfortunately still alive in many of our campuses. We know the reasons for it and we're working hard to establish anti-bullying programs."

During 2011 SCOE and Changnon rallied the cause of civility with speakers such as South African bishop Desmond Tutu, generating 28 board resolutions, Facebook membership, a website ( that generated 7,000 hits and five partner projects including Modesto Nuts players impressing on youngsters about character mattering. The county's 13 branch libraries are highlighting book suggestions that reflect on civility issues.

A total of 164 schools in the county are involved in the campaign.

"I'm receiving hundreds and hundreds of emails and testimonials from people that just say it's working. I see it. I was recently in an elementary classroom, third grade, and a youngster sneezed and like three or four students around him said, 'God bless you.' I mean, you usually don't see that. I came into a classroom and the student opened the door for me. You're seeing more civil behavior in our schools. Disciplines, fights are down so it is having an effect."

Changnon is making his "Choose Civility" pitch to educators in other counties, including Alpine, Calaveras and Contra Costa.

Mayor Chris Vierra thanked Changnon for his passion.

"It's a great program," commented Vierra.