Principle 1, ““The school community promotes core ethical and performance values as the foundation for good character,” becomes a little bit more challenging when you apply it to an entire district. How can an entire district create an intentional and unified effort to promote core values?
We turn to 2015 National District of Character, Pennsbury School District for the answer. Pennsbury unites all 15 of its schools with character education and each school manages to bring its own unique flare.
Here is an excerpt from “Roaring and Soaring Pennsbury Sounds Off for Character,” by Eileen Dachnowicz, an article in the 2015 National Schools of Character Magazine.
“Pennsbury is a place where differences are supported and celebrated. There is a common thread made up of a set of strong, positive morals, values, academic, and character-related expectations that are the backbone of the school district…. The district is one large family environment with everyone contributing together.” - Traci Curtis, Parent, Pennsbury School District
It seems the welcoming spirit of William Penn hovers over Pennsbury School District (grades K–12) in Pennsylvania’s quaint Bucks County. With a student body well over 10,000, drawn from four picturesque towns—Yardley, Lower Makefield, Falls Township, and Tullytown— Pennsbury is one of the state’s largest suburban school districts. Yet, a visitor to any of its 10 elementary schools, three middle schools, and huge high school immediately experiences small town friendliness and large doses of brotherly love.
Since Pennsbury Manor, Penn’s summer estate, sits close by on the banks of the Delaware River, it is understandable that the founder’s Quaker ideals have found their way into this district’s approach to building character. Long before character education was fashionable, Pennsbury Pride was in: “A Long- Standing Commitment to Academic Excellence, Character, Leadership, Partnerships and Community Service.”
In 2011, with the arrival of Dr. Donna Dunar as the new assistant superintendent, Pennsbury Pride took a giant leap. Dr. Dunar, formerly principal of Alta S. Leary Elementary School (a 2009 National School of Character from nearby Centennial School District) knew first-hand the advantages of putting character education on the front burner in the district plan. After forming a central Character Education Committee to spearhead the movement, the administration wisely encouraged each school to develop its own approach to creating a program that worked best for its students.
This egalitarian strategy paid off handsomely.
Just four years later, in an unprecedented national achievement, the district has been named a 2015 National District of Character, and five of its elementary schools (grades K–5)—Afton, Edgewood, Fallsington, Oxford Valley, and Quarry Hill—as well as two middle schools (grades 6–8)—Pennwood and William Penn— have joined this year’s roster of National Schools of Character. Moreover, Charles Boehm Middle School earned this honor in 2014.
“The individualization of each building’s character program,” says Dr. Dunar, has provided students with “the character education that is best suited for them.”
Staff and students at each school demonstrate creativity and passion in pursuit of their ideals. In keeping with district guidelines, all schools have designed catchy phrases to depict their core values. Acronyms are a decided hit: Edgewood Tigers ROAR. (Respectful, Open-minded, Appreciative, and Responsible); William Penn Falcons SOAR (Strive for Success, Own your Actions, Act Responsible, Respond Respectfully); and Quarry Hills Jaguars show their PAWS (Practice Respect, Accept Responsibility, Work Together, Stay Positive). Afton has its Calendar of Character, Fallsington its PAW, Oxford Valley its Cornerstones, and Pennwood students stand UNITED.
A fierce sense of ownership is a byproduct of school autonomy, and building character is clearly fun at Pennsbury.
To read the full article and many others, order the 2015 National Schools of Character Magazine or become a member to receive your free copy!