Finding success in a pyramid full of it

NEWPORT BEACH — Reading, writing and arithmetic form the heart of education.

But what about kindness, friendship, hard work and the other character traits that are also important to becoming a well-rounded individual?

"If the child's behavior isn't in check, they can't learn," said Pamela Coughlin, principal of Mariners Elementary School.

Every elementary school uses some kind of character education program, but about a third of those in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District have jumped on board with one program adapted from former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden's children book "Inch and Miles: The Journey to Success."

The program, called the Pyramid of Success, after the legendary coach's methods, was started in 2003 at Mariners by third-grade teacher Pat McLaughlin, a UCLA alumna. The program has since spread to eight schools.

"This was coach Wooden's vision — to value the pyramid and make it a part of their lives," she said.

Pyramid of Success is based on 15 "blocks," or character traits, that when combined form a pyramid. When children use all of the blocks, they are said to be at their personal best.

At Mariners, the program worked where others have failed because it is all-inclusive, McLaughlin said.

"I really think things are better," McLaughlin said. "Well, I know they are, but it's really not something you can document."

The children are inducted into the Pyramid of Success in kindergarten and surrounded by it until they leave for middle school.

Colorful, larger-than-life murals of the book's characters — with the traits they represent emblazoned beside them — greet children along corridors. Posters of the pyramid hang in classrooms, and children are handed cards with the block they utilized checked off when they are caught doing something good.

The blocks are pulled into literature and science instruction. Even the librarian gets into the action, asking kids which blocks the characters used. All the children journal about their successes using the different blocks.

"It works for us because it's everywhere," Coughlin said.

Third-grade student Noelle Juberg, 9, recently thought back to the blocks when she wanted to join her siblings in playing but had homework to finish. She decided to finish her homework, but she then joined in on the fun.

Trying to use the blocks every day has just become part of her routine. She is trying to expand her knowledge of the blocks until she gets all of them down.

"If you use all of them, then you're going to show your personal best, and people are going to want to be your friend if you're nice and show all the blocks," she said.

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