Cowboy Ethics: Students use ranch principles to learn

ELKHART Cowboys are common in Western movies and comics, but what about in the classroom? One teacher in Elkhart is using the horseback riding heroes to teach ethics to her 5th grade class.

Suzanne Holcomb, along with help from her dad Dwight Moudy, of the Elkhart County Farm Bureau, is using cowboys to teach city kids about life on the ranch.

"The Cowboy Ethics program is an opportunity to teach kids about how cowboys used to live, how they still live and how that benefits them as far as thinking about choices that they make, how they live their lives," said Holcomb.

The program is based off a book, written by author James Owen. It was aimed at Wall Street, and discussed ten principles executives can learn from cowboys. But Holcomb and Moudy agreed, the same ten principles can be applied in the classroom.

"It's not something you hear every day," said Holcomb. "And it's something they maybe don't know a lot about, so it's a learning experience for them."

Holcomb uses a combination of activity and discussion to teach Cowboy Ethics. One student describes the experience.

"We were practicing how to herd cattle, and we were timed to get all the balloons into one area, so it would be like we were actually herding them," said Kevin Hill, a 5th grader at Mary Beck, in reference to a balloon herding activity the class participated in.

Holcomb had students practice working as a team to move balloons into a designated area, modeling what it is like for ranchers to herd unruly cattle.

"They learned teamwork, they learned how to get along with people maybe they wouldn't get along with on a daily basis," said Holcomb. "You have to work with people that maybe aren't your best friend, but you still have to work with them and be respectful."

So far the class has focused on principle number 7, "Ride for the Brand."

"Everybody, they have a brand," said Emiliano Nguirre, a 5th grader at Mary Beck. "We made up our own one for the class."

Another student, Yadira Martinez, says the experiments and discussions have been a great learning opportunity.

"It's really interesting and it gives us interesting facts about what happened in the past and what's going to happen in the future," said Martinez. "They [taught] us how to work in team work."

The following are all ten principles the students will discuss throughout the year.

1. Live each day with courage
2. Take pride in your work
3. Always finish what you start
4. Do what has to be done
5. Be tough, but fair
6. When you make a promise, keep it
7. Ride for the brand
8. Talk less and say more
9. Remember that some things aren't for sale
10. Know where to draw the line

For more about Cowboy Ethics, check out the webpage.

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