The MPLS Citizenship Program

An Overview of the MPLS Citizenship Program

Price Laboratory School Elementary Citizenship Program:
A Laboratory for Democracy
Clare Struck and Kim Miller
Cedar Falls IA
(ICSS Journal, Vol. 1 No.1, Fall 2006)

Edited by Lynn E. Nielsen
Former MPLS Elementary Prinicpal



Character education has now become as familiar to many educators as reading and math.

Character education is the fastest growing reform movement in Pre-K –12 education today (Williams, 2000).  Although there is much ongoing discussion and debate about the academic standards established in No Child Left Behind (2001), it is important to acknowledge that this legislation also calls for support of character education.  Character education has received increasing recognition among state governments, boards of education, and professional organizations (Milson, 2000).

In the 2004 Iowa legislative session, legislation was proposed to ensure schools would implement character education efforts to counter the rising tide of bullying, harassment, and hazing in schools.  Although this legislation was not passed, Governor Thomas Vilsack and Lt. Governor Sally Pederson sent a letter to all public and private school Districts in May of 2004 in Iowa stating their concerns about this lack of respect, civility, and safety in Iowa schools.  Their letter contained these alarming statistics from the 2002 Iowa Youth Survey.

  • 72% reported that class was stopped at some point in the last three weeks to deal with a major behavioral disruption
  • 44% said students in their schools do not treat each other with respect
  • 17% feel like there is no one at their school they can turn to in a time of need
  • 17% do not feel safe at school

In 2005,the Iowa State Department of Education developed and began implementing the  Learning Supports for Iowa Students initiative in response to these concerns.  This plan supports schools in creating learning environments that are safe, supportive, and  conducive to learning for Iowa’s children and youth (Vilsack & Pederson, 2002).

A Long Term Model of Character Education

In 1993, the elementary faculty and elementary principal at Price Laboratory School (MPLS) at the University of Northern Iowa expressed concerns about students not transferring the level of respect they demonstrated in the classrooms to the more unstructured areas such as recess, lunchtime, and before and after school.  They decided to move forward with a proactive response to these civility concerns.  This school-wide character education initiative was titled the PLS Elementary Citizenship Program.  This program is rooted in a strong developmental and preventative philosophy.  Its main goal is to develop and maintain a cohesive community  of learners who value and respect each other.

Two staples of this sustained character education program were the monthly citizenship themes and the monthly all-school assemblies held on the last Friday of each month.  The monthly themes are determined each year with student, teacher, and parent input.  At each citizenship assembly that particular month’s theme is reviewed and the next month’s theme is introduced.  Music, drama, and other creative approaches are incorporated into these assemblies that makes them an invigorating and learning experience for all participants. 

Another constant at these assemblies is the leadership role the PLS Elementary Student Council members take by leading the Pledge of Allegiance and the PLS Pledge and reporting on the service-learning project they worked on during that particular month.  The Elementary Student Council met with the Elementary Principal and other staff members to plan for the monthly assemblies.  Also, teachers incorporated the monthly citizenship themes in their classrooms by creating and teaching lessons about the particular themes and designing and displaying bulletin boards and other visuals about the particular themes.

During this program’s existence, it partnered with the College of Education at the University of Northern Iowa, the Iowa State Department of Education, and the Institute for Character Development at Drake University in grant writing, conference planning, and consultation about character education.  Price Laboratory School received a 2005 Iowa Character Award from the Institute for Character Development for its integration of the Six Pillars of Character Counts! (Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, Citizenship) into its Elementary Citizenship Program (Character Counts! Coalition, 1999). (Read complete article.....)


Nielsen, L., Finkelstein, J., Schmidt, A., Duncan, A. (2008). Citizenship education: Engaging children in building community. Social Studies and the Young Learner, 21(1), 19-23.

Miller, K. Struck, C. (2006).  Price Laboratory School Elementary Citizenship Program:  A Laboratory for Democracy. 1 (1), 15-18.

Nielsen, L.(1998). New study shows states returning to character education. Character Educator, 6(1), 9.

Nielsen, L. (1997). Research summary: the status of character education from the perspective of state departments of education. Social Studies Review, 37(1), 20-22.

Miller, K. Struck, C. (1996). Character education: Price Laboratory School Citizenship Program, 1 (1), 12-15.

Nielsen, L., Fraser, P. (1995).The status of character education from the perspective of state departments of education .  National Association of Laboratory Schools Journal,  XX(1), 14-17.

Nielsen, L., Finkelstein, J. (1988). Citizenship education: looking at government. Social Studies and the Young Learner, 1(1), 10-13.

2005 First Amendment (FAS) Program

2005 First Amendment (FAS) Assemblies, Awards and Programs

2007 Iowa School of Character and National Schools of Character Finalist

2008 National Schools of Character Application Narrative

2008 CEP Finalist Award

2008 Schools of Character Award Banner

2008 Schools of Character Award Press Release

2008 National Schools of Character Award Presentation
2010 ASCD Whole Child Award Banner
2010 Vision in Action: The Whole Child Award Recipient

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