Students follow Code of the West for life principles
While The Stables in Fayette County Public Schools is a long way from Wyoming, the alternative program has embraced “Cowboy Ethics” and the Code of the West with its 10 Principles to Live By. For sophomore McKayla Goltz, the favorite is “Always Finish What You Start.” “That motivates people to really see the true potential in themselves. If you give up, you’ll never know the outcome that was possible,” she said. “You’re more capable than you think you are, and the teachers want us to realize we have so much potential and we can make it in the world.”
Sandy Owens, a secondary academic resource specialist in the district’s Special Education Department, introduced the new approach here. About three years ago as The Stables revamped its mission and direction, she recalled a leadership book study on “Cowboy Ethics” by James Owen and thought it would be a good fit with The Stables’ equine-themed culture. After some research, Owens found that yes, someone had already developed a curriculum called “Be Somebody: the Cowboy Ethics Way to Win at Life.” She and Brian McIntyre, then administrative dean, completed training with the Wyoming Youth Initiative – confident that students here could also address living life and making decisions based on solid principles.
“We really examined all the pieces and core values and what we wanted our kids to be getting. One element was development of character-building skills,” Owens noted. “It’s not a program that tells kids what to do. It’s based off doing an activity and then you have a discussion around Code of the West principles. Students then reflect and think about how it applies to their life.”
The activities and lessons also foster a climate of trust with interesting dynamics, whether in math class, during barn chores, or with social studies projects. “It’s very much a part of the fabric of who The Stables is,” Owens said.
In the first year, The Stables notched positive results through weekly lessons. Students who were apprehensive in social groups got on board to try the activities, and over time, opened up about how they could use the Code in broader decision-making. “They also talk among themselves outside of class, showing they are using the principles in real life. They’re intrinsically using it, which is amazing,” Owens said. “As students learn to think through choices and decisions, it helps to build integrity, grit, and persistence.”
In fall 2019, practicing the Code became a daily routine with the morning elective classes. “When students first get here, we want to engage them and get everybody started on the same page,” said Ametrius Holland, a paraeducator for eight years at The Stables. In one recent activity, he divided students into two teams for a relay race in the parking lot. Some teens were hesitant – anxious that their water balloon would fall off the spoon and burst – but a few classmates like McKayla stepped up to offer encouragement, walk alongside, and even hold hands as motivation. “Sometimes in life you need some help to push through. I liked your strategies,” Holland told them afterward.
With the program’s growth, even the equine instructor reinforces the same terminology and process. “Everything students do ties back to those principles of the Code, so we’re increasing their opportunities to practice, which should help them have better outcomes,” Owens said.
During the past year, the curriculum has also expanded across the school district as Owens has trained over 60 colleagues, including PASS (Positive Approach to Student Success) coaches in every middle and high school as well as learning and behavior disorder teachers who lead a high school elective called “Learning Strategies.”
“When you can use ‘Be Somebody,’ the hope is that students will learn to look at life through a guiding set of principles that helps them make good choices and be successful in life,” Owens said. “We’re giving them a good foundation.”