When it comes to flourishing in school nowadays, scientific evidence is mounting that confirms what many of us have suspected all along—that if we want children to truly learn, and to perform better in life as both students and citizens, then we have to educate them in an environment that they see as safe, caring and nurturing. In short, school social climate matters, so social and emotional learning (SEL), combined with character education, just may be the magical combination that makes academic growth possible.
What's Happening in Character Education?
By Mark Hyatt, President & CEO
Before the summer slips away from us all, I would be remiss if I did not take a moment here to talk about the wonderful experience that occurred June 16-21 at CEP’s second Leaders of Character Camp (LoCC), hosted once again by my alma mater, the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Many thanks to our individual sponsors and the SD Bechtel Foundation for making this camp possible.
Despite another unsettling Colorado summer clouded by the threat of continuing wildfires, 19 high school juniors and seniors from across the state were able to put their worries aside for a week and concentrate solely on improving themselves and each other. Led by five AFA cadets and four students from other colleges, the group took part in a range of classroom discussions and competitive outdoor activities designed to promote teamwork, trust, creativity,accountability and other core values.
“It’s a way to equip youth with habits of honorable character,” explained Maj. Dale Sanders, LoCC director and deputy director of the AFA Center for Character and Leadership Development. This year’s challenging group exercises included hiking, biking, rafting, geocashing and paintballing.
Thank goodness my wife opened my eyes to the importance of empathy before I became a father and a school leader. To be honest, for the first half of my life, I was so driven to achieve the task at hand that I struggled to understand why some people just couldn’t show up, get to work and do what they had to do. By definition, “empathy” is accurately understanding what another person is feeling. If we understand the content of what the other person is saying, but cannot correctly identify the emotion that person is feeling, then we are not demonstrating empathy and we are not even aware of our deficiency.
One year ago, a great American died. His name was Sandy McDonnell. He was an honorable man who left behind a remarkable legacy. It is one we can all learn from.
Sandy was brilliant. After graduating from Princeton and completing graduate school in Colorado, he worked on the Top Secret Manhattan Project during World War II. Afterwards, he went on to reach the very highest levels in the corporate sector. He rose through the ranks to become CEO of a giant aerospace company. Along the way, he traveled the world, met Presidents and heads of state, and received lots of high-level awards and honors.
Eloisa DeJesus-Woodruff, Principal of 2012 National School of Character (NSOC) Richard Stockton Elementary in Cherry Hill, New Jersey was so moved by the devastation being faced by her fellow citizens in New Jersey and New York in the wake of Sandy that she returned from the National Forum ready to act. She had a vision of mobilizing the National Schools of Character to help those in need – other NSOC communities that were impacted as well as anyone else who needed help through the Red Cross. She hoped her students could help others and would have the opportunity to share stories with other students in other communities around the country. Knowing the power of service learning in her own community, she envisioned how much impact the NSOCs could have by working together.
In Marvin Berkowitz’s Hot Topic discussion this afternoon, he didn’t hesitate to cut right to the point. “We need to make schools less like prisons,” he said. “When you think about it, it’s disconcerting how much the analogy fits. How can we create more enlightened and just schools?” Marvin’s talk focused on utilizing empowerment and democracy to accomplish this.
Topics: CEPLeaders, key lessons, character, character education, CEP2012, cheating, student voice, core values, what works in education, CEPForum10, character education in high school, Character Ed Infused in Curriculum
The world lost a great leader when CEP's co-founder and Chairman Emeritus Sanford N. McDonnell passed away in March. The overwhelming outpour of emotions from those who knew him and whose lives he had touched inspired CEP to archive the sentiments and prepare a book of memories for the McDonnell family. Our Vice President, Joe Mazzola, shared his thoughts in a blog post shortly after Sandy's passing.
In schools of character:
Bullying is rare
87% of students attending 2011 National Schools of Character reported in climate surveys that they felt safe school or that bullying was rare (with 27 of the 44 NSOC reporting data in this category).
Eldridge Park Elementary School (Lawrenceville, NJ): 100% of 3rd graders report feeling safe at school in exit polls.
Fuguitt Elementary School (Largo, FL): 98% of students report feeling safe at school
Mark Twain Elementary School (Brentwood, MO): The school reports an 85% reduction in incidents of bullying over the past 6 years.
Union Elementary School (Buckhannon, WV): 93% of students surveyed say they have never been bullied.
Last Friday I had the honor of representing CEP at a special White House screening of the movie, Bully. The movie is heart-wrenching. When it was over, I felt sad, disappointed, emotionally drained and angry. I can remember thinking to myself, “My gosh, how in the world can we as a nation allow this sort of thing to happen? Aren’t we better than that?”
Bully, in the end, is really a graphic depiction of a breakdown of good character in many ways—on the part of the bullies, the bystanders, and even some school administrators and teachers. It’s also a sad reflection on our culture—we as human beings. After the film, several parents and students who were in the film spoke, along with the director, the Secretary of Education, the Sr. Advisor to the President and the Superintendent of Schools for Sioux City, Iowa, who showed great courage in opening up his school system for taping.