Teacher wins character education trophy for engaging students in community

San Bernardino, California Pacific High School teacher CJ Eastwood recently won a Character Education Award trophy and $2,000 from San Bernardino area Rotary Clubs.

“There is a literal trophy,” Chris Tickell, president of the San Bernardino Rotary Club said, according to the San Bernardino Sun. “It’s a very large perpetual trophy that the winner’s school gets to display until next year’s Character Education Awards luncheon.”

Tickell, who also serves as director of charter schools for San Bernardino City Unified School District, presented the trophy to Eastwood at this year’s annual luncheon in June. Rotary Club member Dale Marsden and Pacific High School Principal Natalie Raymundo were also on hand at the ceremony.

Raymundo said Eastwood won the award because he “creates a safe and supportive learning community that encourages students to be involved in the community.”

“Overall, (CJ’s) biggest contribution to character education is helping students understand the impact of their words, actions and inactions on the school and broader community,” Raymundo said.

The Character Education Award was created in 1991 by the San Bernardino Rotary Club, San Bernardino Rotary Club Crossroads-Loma Linda, San Bernardino Rotary Club North and San Bernardino Rotary Club Sunset. The recognition – “for educators whose teaching exemplifies the virtues of character education in the classroom” – comes with $2,000.

Three other finalists also received $250 and a plaque: Del Vallejo Middle School teacher Benjamin Cervanes, Curtis Middle School teacher Cara Nelson, and Muscoy Elementary School teacher Rebecca Robles, the Sun reports.

Character experts have noted how Eastwood’s focus on community involvement and hands-on learning is important.

Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture sociologist James Davison Hunter explained in “The Death of Character” that “individuals are social creatures inextricably embedded in their communities …”

“Experience was always a precursor to the possession of character and practical wisdom, for it schools the individual in the range of circumstances within which the virtues would find express,” he wrote.

The Jesuit Schools Network provides a “Profile of the Graduate” as a helpful starting place for educators to incorporate community service – whether compulsory, voluntary, or some combination – that will cultivate the strong character virtues students will rely on throughout their lives.

The Profile provides a framework for character education that focuses on developing five key characteristics in students before they graduate from high school, ensuring they’re “open for growth,” “intellectually competent,” “religious,” “loving,” and “committed to doing justice.”

“The JSEA re-visioned Profile of the Graduate at Graduation remains a broad template that each school needs to adapt and tailor by its own careful reflection on its own context and experience,” according to the document.

Hundreds of MN educators attend state-sponsored ‘restorative practices training’

Hundreds of educators across Minnesota received “Restorative Practices Training” through the state’s Department of Education this summer as part of a shift toward a more thoughtful discipline approach in schools.

About 650 educators in total – teachers, social workers, counselors and administrators – attended classes over two weeks in June to learn how to respond to conflicts in schools and better help students work through their problems, KSTP reports.

Nancy Riestenberg, a restorative practices specialist with the Minnesota Department of Education, contends “adults are always teaching kids social skills and so we should be intentional about how we do that.”

In school districts across the country, officials are using “restorative justice” practices as the primary tool for reducing a disproportionately high percentage of minority students who are suspended from school – an effort that was strongly supported by the Obama administration.

In Minnesota, trainings were held in Cloquet, Bemidji and Crystal for the first time in June, though districts including St. Paul and others have already implemented restorative justice programs with mixed success, however.

Hopkins West Junior High Assistant Principal Matthew Johnson likened the “restorative practices” training to “learning a new way of building relationships with students.”

He contends an emphasis on dialogue and making things right with the restorative approach gives students a foundation to address problems throughout their lives.

“It gives students the opportunity to have voice within a circle, to hear each other. So when those tough times come, when conflict does happen, they’ll have the skills,” he said. “They’ll have learned the skills to listen and then to speak their truth.”

Perpich Arts High School Assistant Principal Christopheraaron Deanes said restorative practices encourage kids “to hear your heart instead of hearing your words.”

“Because words don’t always give you the emotion,” Deanes said.

Riestenberg told KSTP Minnesota’s restorative practices are based on tribal traditions that date back generations, blended with methods “restorative justice” councils use to improve inmate behavior in Carlton County prisons.

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture, notes in “The Tragedy of Moral Education in America”:

The components of morality are expressed in a community’s institutions, including its moral rules … When it functions well, our moral culture binds us, compels us, in ways of which we are not fully aware.

The Centre for Justice & Reconciliation offers a six part tutorial about restorative justice that covers the values, programs, and conceptual issues involved as well as the benefits and implementation of the approach.

“Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior,” according to the Centre, a program of Prison Fellowship International. “It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders. This can lead to transformation of people, relationships and communities.”

NY students interview vets, use stories to create interactive book

Fourth graders in Pittsford, New York’s Thornell Road Elementary School are making some new friends in their community and chronicling their stories in a book about service and sacrifice.

Teacher Toni Stevens-Oliver’s class recently interviewed 23 veterans from the Rayson-Miller American Legion Post 899 to get an intimate understanding of why they joined the service and how it shaped their lives. The students then chronicled the stories in a new book called “Veteran’s Voices” – which also features an online app to view videos of the veterans in their own words, WHAM reports.

“The book was a way for us to connect one-on-one personally a student with a veteran and get to know each other through the veteran telling their story and the student writing that story,” Stevens-Oliver told the news site.

The veterans “were blown away by the interest the students showed, the respect the children showed,” she said. “We hope our book inspires people to ask their local veterans what their story is.”

Students told WHAM they learned a lot from the class project.

“Freedom isn’t free, and the veterans sacrificed a lot of things,” student James Kazacos said. “They sacrificed time with their family, holidays.”

“They are just like normal people, except that they step up and do a job that takes courage,” classmate Jake Schreyer added.

Al Herdkoltz, commander of the Rayson-Miller post, said the effort gives him hope the stories of local veterans will not be forgotten.

“They actually had an interest and they were my friends,” he said. “I felt very comfortable and at ease. I felt I had a new friendship even though there was quite a bit of age difference, they were my friends.”

Steven-Oliver shared the project on Shutterfly and posted supporting documents to her Pittsford Schools website as a template for teachers looking to pursue a similar project. The school page also features a special shout out from Sen. Rich Funke acknowledging students’ hard work.

“To take the time to not only interview our veterans, but to take those interviews and incorporate them into an interactive book was special, not just to them but to all of us who care about our veterans,” Funke said in a video message.

Researchers at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture stress the importance of developing a sense of responsibility for and ownership of something larger than students’ self-interests. In The Content of Their Character, researchers noted how rural schools are particularly strong at fostering connections to broader spheres of moral obligation through immigration, religion and the military.

“In addition to building greater knowledge of cultures and societies outside of the U.S.,” researchers wrote, great teachers “were aiming primarily to build social-perspective taking, empathy and general critical thinking skills.”

Much of the work centers on gratitude, and the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers a plethora of research on the subject, including the public’s perception of gratitude and links between the virtue and service.

“More recently, the Centre has extended its focus on gratitude by examining the effects of teaching interventions on comprehensions of gratitude and related virtues,” according to the website.

Teachers key to NY school’s ‘National School of Character’ award

Lancaster’s Como Park Elementary is the only school in Western New York, and one of only four in the state, to win recognition as a “National School of Character” from the nonprofit Character.org.

“I don’t know if people truly understand how big that is, but certainly that’s a wonderful achievement for (Principal Molly Marcinelli), all her teachers and her staff, and her students, so congratulations again and again and again,” Lancaster Central Superintendent Michael Vallely repeated at a June school board meeting, according to the Lancaster Bee.

Character.org explains that schools honored with the distinction first gain recognition as state schools of character for a “dedicated focus on character development with a positive impact on academic achievement, student behavior, school climate and their communities.”

Character.org reviews the schools based on “11 Principles of Effective Character Education” that considers things like how schools foster leadership, provide opportunities for students to take action, and work with families and the community to build character in students.

The nonprofit recognizes schools worldwide, with a total of 73 schools across the U.S. named a National School of Character this year.

Principal Marcinelli credited the success to staff and parents in the community who support the school’s character building efforts, which start with a focus on basic manners and develops into service work, fundraising and other opportunities.

“Parents, students, staff everyone was a part of achieving this award because it does truly take a village,” she said. “I can’t say enough about the character of my parent community, and my staff is just hands down the best there is.”

Marcinelli said Como Park educators have worked to engrain character lessons throughout the school to ensure “everybody in the building is treated with the same level of respect,” an initiative that extends to teaching students how to respectfully address drivers when boarding and exiting buses.

“We have … not bought into one-shot assemblies and things like that and canned programs that try to teach character,” she said. “We have worked on just teaching kids basic things such as shaking hands, eye contact, ‘Good mornings’ and ‘Have a nice day.’”

Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture founder James Davison Hunter writes in “The Death of Character”:

Implicit in the word ‘character’ is a story. It is a story about living for a purpose that is greater than the self.

The work of Como Park Elementary staff to foster character and citizenship in students illustrates the powerful role schools play in shaping youngsters into responsible, compassionate adults.

Educators looking for tips on developing strong character virtues in students can find quality, grade-specific lessons and exercises through the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation’s website.

The foundation covers a wide range of values, grade levels and subject matter, as well as an entire Medal of Honor curriculum with living history videos of role models who have received the country’s highest and most prestigious personal military decoration.


‘Leadership Day’ offers students local role models for overcoming adversity

Hamilton Bicentennial Elementary School in Cuddlebackville, New York wants students facing challenges in life to know they’re not alone, and to offer hope through real-life role models.

The school’s recent fifth annual Leadership Day focused on the theme of “overcoming obstacles” with a full day of school staff and community volunteers sharing their inspiring stories with kindergarten through sixth grade students.

About 400 students attended an assembly to watch video testimonials from staff members and listen to stories from amputees and other folks with physical disfigurements. In classrooms, representatives from local law enforcement, government and private business weaved their personal experiences with the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey.

Youngsters heard from teachers who overcame cancer and other tragedies, a young woman raised in foster care who became an Emmy-nominated reporter, a former Hamilton student who went on to become a successful composer, and many others who thrived through adversity, the Times Herald-Record reports.

“It’s the most important work we do,” Kara Rapp, chair of the school’s Character Education Committee, told the news site. “Academics are very important, but when someone is facing any kind of adversity in life, they’re going to refer back to character education – how someone inspired them, what they learned from someone else’s experience. That’s what they’re going to lean on.”

Port Jervis High School math teacher Carolyn Dorritie shared with a classroom of sixth-graders what she learned from a September 2009 house fire that claimed the lives of two of her daughters and a friend that stayed the night.

“There are obstacles that are small, little bumps in the road,” she said. “Then there are obstacles that are like a fence you have to climb over. But then there are obstacles you can’t even see the top of, and to get over them, you need everyone – a community, a school, your friends, your family – everybody, to help.”

Dorritie, who overcame her tragedy to return to teaching and was eventually nominated as the state’s Teacher of the Year, said the experience ultimately inspired her to pursue her calling with a passion.

“I didn’t come back just to teach,” she said. “I came back to made a difference.”

Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in culture emphasize and support efforts to help students overcome adversity as a critical component of effective character education, which extends to students’ mental state, home life, and after school community.  Institute founder James Davison Hunter writes in “The Tragedy of Moral Education in America”:

The form of character is one thing, but the substance of character always takes shape relative to the culture in which it is found.

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers a video and research into “Flourishing from the Margins” that highlights findings from a data set of nearly 3,250 young people from a variety of educational settings, as well as teaching materials for educators working with marginalized youth.

Student-led alternative to suspensions changes NJ school culture

Students at Holyoke High School in New Jersey are learning to work through conflicts and other life experiences in a constructive way – a new approach to school discipline that’s morphed into something much more.

The New Jersey school was home to one of the highest suspension rates for Latino students in the nation just five years ago.  The state took over the school and officials implemented a new restorative justice discipline program with a focus on transforming student support.

Today, in what was a classroom used for in-school suspensions – where students would sit silently in rowed desks – there’s a circle of chairs, ongoing service projects, and students meeting in one-on-one sessions with counselors, New England Public Radio reports.

The program is called Pa’lante – a term used in Puerto Rico which means “moving forward” – and it’s designed and led by the students themselves, many of whom first learned about the group through disciplinary problems.

“We did the research on what actually benefits students,” senior Stephanie Duque said. “You know, we’re humans, we need to be supported in different ways.”

NEPR reports:

There’s a lot going on at Pa’lante. First there are the peer leaders—a strongly-bonded group of 25 students who meet numerous times a week. Then there are the “action research” projects these students engage in every year, like the one that led to changes in the student support room. And finally there’s “circle practice,” a mode of conflict resolution facilitated by peer leaders for other students, and even teachers.

The program has the backing of district officials, who plan to expand the restorative justice approach to other schools. Union officials also support the concept, but note it’s been unable to fully address Holyoke’s student discipline problems.

Regardless, Pa’lante students are convinced the student-led initiative is moving things in the right direction, while also sending an important message.

“For me it’s a counter-narrative,” said senior Vianca Gonzalez, who has served as a peer leader over the last three years. “Because the dominant narrative is, people from Holyoke: drug dealers, pregnancies, drop-out. And Pa’lante is providing this outlet for us where we can show people that being Latinos from Holyoke we’re not who they think we are, and we’re going to prove them wrong.”

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, discusses in his book “The Death of Character” how effective character education encourages students to engage shared values through school and community life.

Advocates of the new and improved character education pedagogies end up with an unequivocal affirmation of moral content in the advocacy of values. They generally agree that young people should be required to engage these values through the habits and challenges of basic life experience, especially when these ideals and practices are integrated in the entire life of the school and in the fabric of the larger community.

The Pa’lante Restorative Justice website goes into more details about “indigenous circle practice,” “youth participatory action research,” and other practices the program uses “to build youth power, center student voice, and organize for school discipline and educational policies and practices that actively dismantle the school to prison pipeline in Holyoke and beyond.”

Newcomer to America champions social justice and equal rights

When 13-year-old Natasha Wanjiru escaped the slums of Nairobi, Kenya to study in America on a scholarship with Bridge Academy, she didn’t forget about her siblings and countless other children who weren’t as fortunate.

Two years later, while home in Nairobi during summer break, Wanjiru spoke about her time at the prestigious Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, and how she’s now working to expand opportunities for young girls back home to follow in her footsteps, Standard Media reports.

Her journey started when she joined a Bridge International Academy in Kenya with her brother in 2013 and saw a poster offering scholarships to study in America for top students, according to the Bridge website.

“I got really inspired,” she said. I never knew that something that great could happen to me. So I worked really hard because I knew if I could study in the United States it would really help my family.”

Wanjiru received high marks on achievement tests and initially landed a scholarship through the Kenya Education Fund to cover tuition her mother could not afford at Moi Girls High School in the Kamusinga slums of Nairobi in 2016. After only about five months at the school, she was selected by Bridge International Academies to study at Episcopal High School starting in ninth grade.

She’s now working to recruit her school community in America to contribute to her “change4change” project to sponsor kids from her slum to attend Kenyan secondary schools.

“Teachers and my schoolmates are passionate about changing the lives of children in Kenyan slums. They have been contributing to the course and we have managed to sponsor 30 students,” she said. “There are 18 others with individual sponsors.”

Wanjiru said it’s an effort inspired by her own experience and fueled by a passion for social justice and equal rights.

“The problem with the society is that a single negative narrative of poverty associated with children in slums has curtailed our ability to see the potential in them,” Wanjiru said, referencing a TED talk from her favorite fiction author Chimamanda Adichie of Nigeria.

“I get disturbed at Episcopal when I imagine the number of girls, especially in slums and rural areas, who do not go to school due to lack of fees and end up in early marriages,” she said. “I am working towards getting an organization that is actively involved in social justice issues like education.”

While it’s difficult to know how much Episcopal High School contributed to Wanjiru’s sense of social justice and equal rights, it’s clear those virtues flourished when she landed in America.

Researchers with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture noted how urban public high schools value compassion in “The Content of Their Character”, an analysis of character education in a wide variety of U.S. schools.

“The teachers, staff, and administrators all deeply prized compassion,” researches wrote, “especially in each other, and then to some extent in their students.”

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers lessons for educators to help students consider how they practice compassion in their lives. One lesson, “Build Your Own Virtue: Compassion” encourages students to draw inspiration from literature and history, and to look to role models that bring the virtue to life.


U.S. Air Force recognizes JROTC character education programs that ‘exceed standards’

When it comes to character and citizenship education, Lamar Consolidated High School’s Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program “exceeds standards.”

That’s the word from the U.S. Air Force, which recognized the program and 119 others across the country “that have performed well above and beyond normal expectations, and that have distinguished themselves through outstanding service to their school and community while meeting the Air Force JROTC citizen development mission for America.”

The mission, according to the Houston Chronicle, is “to educate and train high school cadets in citizenship and life skills; promote community service; instill responsibility, character and self-discipline through character education; and to provide instruction in air and space fundamentals.”

The recognition for Unit TX-172 – which includes cadets from Lamar and George Ranch high schools – is based on a formal unit evaluation in December that pointed to the “dynamic and supportive learning environment coupled with an excellent community outreach” under the leadership of Maj. Jeffrey M. Shelton and Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey T. Moffet, the Fort Bend Independent reports.

“The instructors provide outstanding leadership in administering the cadet-centered citizenship program,” which led to cadets who “performed exceptionally well and took great pride in leading and accomplishing their unit goals,” according to the news site.

“The Lamar Consolidated High School Air Force ROTC citizenship program is making a positive impact on the cadets, the school and the community.”

According to the Air Force, “Air Force JROTC is located in close to 900 high schools across the United States and at selected schools in Europe, in the Pacific, and in Puerto Rico. Air Force JROTC enrollment includes more than 120,000 cadets who do over 1.6 million hours of community service each year.”

Lamar Consolidated JROTC’s recognition for exceeding the standard is a timely reminder of the nature of morality.

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, writes in his book the “Tragedy of Moral Education in America”:

Morality is a vision of moral goods shared by a community; the attitudes, aspirations, sensibilities, and dispositions that define its highest aspirations for itself, and how those moral goods find expression in every situation in daily life.

Virtue Insight, a blog by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, takes a deeper look at the virtues that support strong moral character – primarily temperance, courage, justice, and practical wisdom – through the observations of priest and theologian Aquinas.

University of Chicago professor Candace Vogler explains how “living well within reason” relies on applying practical knowledge through habitual virtuous activities.

“For those of us interested in thinking about the ways that virtuous activity allows reason to effectively guide us in leading better and more fulfilling lives, work on cultivating virtuous habits just is work on learning to live wisely,” Vogler wrote.

Cultivating cyber-wisdom through character education

For some, the advancement of digital technologies and their rapid adoption has created a moral crisis for individuals as well as broader society. For others, they present an opportunity to tackle moral concerns on a global scale. The truth is probably somewhere in-between and that both these positions have merit.  A further truth is that researchers have struggled to keep pace with recent digital technological developments. Gaining a clear picture about the effects of the Internet, mobile phones and other digital technologies on humans and humanity has been challenging.  What is clear, both from research, but also the daily experiences of young people, parents, teachers and others is that these new technologies have poised some big moral questions.  Global moral concerns such as cyber-bullying, online plagiarism, piracy, fake news and many others have become a reality for most of us since the start of the millennium.  These concerns are prominent in the media yet often contested on conceptual or empirical grounds in academia.  Yet, the evidence shows that moral concerns, such as those listed above, are on the rise globally.  There are also those who seek to counter the negative picture; they say digital technologies can be the driver of informed, collaborative, active and positive citizenship activities.

If children and young people are to become cyber-citizens then we require educational policies that encourage them to be critically reflective on their use of digital technologies.  One approach is to seek, through deliberate educational efforts, to cultivate Cyber-wisdom (what Aristotle might have called cyber-phronesis) in our children and young people. Cyber-wisdom can be defined as doing the right thing, at the right time especially when no one is watching (Harrison, 2016).   The substantial work carried out by the Jubilee Centre into how neo-Aristotelian character educational theory can be applied in practice provides some guidance on how cyber-wisdom can be ‘taught’ in schools (see www.jubileecentre.ac.uk).

A new intervention, entitled Making Wiser Choices Online, was recently developed and trialed by over 500 11-14 year olds in England.  The intervention was incorporated into the Computer Science programme of study and built on similar studies that demonstrate the possibilities of teaching character through and within curriculum subjects. The intervention, consisting of a taught course structured across four computer science lessons and required students to be both self-reflective about their own Internet use and its impact on others. At the heart of the programme was a focus on the moral dilemmas that students face in their daily lives; relating to concerns such as cyber-bullying, plagiarism and piracy amongst others. The approach aimed to improve students’ ethical decision-making in cyber-society as well as to help them engage in virtue reasoning, especially when the virtue conflicted.

Repeated exposure to dilemmas might be seen as a form of advanced habituation where students are gradually brought to more critical discernment through the practice of cyberphronesis. The advantage of this approach, and its focus on critical reflection, is that moral character education need not be indoctrinating as it is about ‘helping students grasp what is ethically important in situations and to act for the right reasons, such that they become more autonomous and reflective’ (Jubilee Centre, 2017: 2).  The results of the pilot found that those students who had experienced the programme developed their virtue perception and reasoning more than those who did not.  Virtue perception and virtue reasoning might be seen as just two parts of the complex cyber-wisdom jigsaw; but the research demonstrates how adopting a character education approach to address online moral concerns could be an important step towards us all flourishing online.



Harrison, T. (2016) ‘Cultivating Cyber-Phronesis: A New Educational Approach to Tackle Cyber-bullying’, Pastoral Care in Education, Vol. 34, no. 4, pp. 232-244.

Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues (2017) A Framework for Character Education in Schools. Birmingham: University of Birmingham, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, [Online], Available at: http://jubileecentre.ac.uk/userfiles/jubileecentre/pdf/character-education/Framework%20for%20Character%20Education.pdf

Teachers working on Dismantling Racism want officials to expand popular program

Teachers, faculty and parents familiar with the Dismantling Racism curriculum at Bowman Elementary School are urging the Lexington, Massachusetts school committee to expand the program across the district.

Bowman principal Mary Anton told the committee members her staff had focused on closing the achievement gap and addressing unconscious biases in the past, but until last year “didn’t open up the spaces for children to learn how to talk about difference and across difference,” Lexington Wicked Local reports.

The change, implemented through weekly or biweekly discussions about racism with K-5 students through the Dismantling Racism curriculum, is making a big difference in how students interact, Anton said.

Second grade teacher Catie Sawka said she’s witnessed students carry on their conversations about race outside of the classroom, while first grade teacher Alicia D’Abreu contends students are more kind, empathetic and aware than in the past.

“This is something we need to bring to all schools right away,” parent Matthew Cohen, whose daughter is in Swaka’s class, told committee members.

Cohen said his daughter never wants to miss school on Wednesdays – the day her class works on Dismantling Racism.

“It’s a great program, and we need to just expand it,” he said.

The Dismantling Racism program is part of a broader effort to address racism and bias in Lexington schools that also includes a Discipline Task Force aimed at curbing high suspension rates among black and disabled students.

“The group’s goals including finding ways to identify resources, collaborate across the school district and make systemic changes,” according to the news site.

The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia points to the importance of teachers and other school officials working to create a positive moral culture for students.

In “The Death of Character,” IASC founder and UVA sociologist James Davison Hunter writes:

The Influence of moral culture cuts across the boundaries of economic circumstances, race and ethnicity, gender, age, and family structure.

With students spending the bulk of their days in school, teachers have an unparalleled opportunity to influence students to treat others with equity, acceptance and understanding, regardless of racial background.

The Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues offers a variety of resources to help educators in that mission, including a lesson on “The Virtue of Friendliness and Civility” that delves into how the virtue fits into students’ lives.

Friendliness and civility “builds upon the basic desire to warm to others and to be accepted by them for good things – a very basic human desire,” according to the lesson. “But it also moderates our more negative emotions, especially those related to the taking of offence.”