Student explains how her Christian faith supports strong character

Dinuba High School student Audrey Menard is well-known for her outstanding character, and she isn’t shy about explaining what drives her to stay kind and positive through life’s challenges.

The California junior is active in Dinuba’s Ignite Club, a Christian student group on campus, and it’s her faith in Christ that has helped her stay strong when her “papa” was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, Your Central Valley reports.

“I came home after a choir concert to find out my Papa was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” she said. “At first you didn’t want to believe it and it was really shocking.”

Ignite Club advisor Christopher Seitz, a Dinuba science teacher, credited Menard’s ability to persevere through the bad news to her Christian faith.

“Audrey had a positive attitude, in fact she says, ‘We believe he will be healed.’ And I was floored by that statement and I think she can say that because she has a profound faith,” he said.

Despite her own issues, Audrey has continuously worked to help others at school, serving as an example of kindness and compassion for both students and staff, Seitz said.

“Her smile alone is enough to make me smile and people respect her, students and teachers alike, because she is so mature for her age and radiates beauty and kindness,” he said.

Menard, who was recognized for her remarkable character by Your Central Valley in February, said her faith has taught her to use kindness and resilience to her advantage, particularly when times are tough.

“When it feels like everything is going wrong in the world to focus on that positive thing,” she said. “That can change your whole view on everything that will get you through the hardest moments.”

“I have this positive mindset that (papa) is healed, we are going to pass through this, and it will be a miracle that we can use to help other people,” Menard said.

Menard’s story highlights the important role faith plays in many students’ lives, and it serves as a reminder about the critical sacred quality of good character.

“This point bears repeating: character does not require religious faith,” James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, wrote in The Death of Character. “But it does require conviction of truth made sacred, abiding as an authoritative presence within consciousness and life, reinforced by habits institutionalized within a moral community.”

The Ignite Club obviously offers one avenue for reinforcing the religious habits that guide Menard’s strong character. Teachers can also take the lead in encouraging students to draw on their deepest convictions – including religious convictions – in ways that honor the sacredness of those beliefs and makes space for the convictions of others.

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers a research report titled Flourishing from the Margins: Living a Good Life and Developing Purpose in Marginalized Young People that explains how students perceive their own sense of purpose and their vision of a “good life.”

In addition to research on how character education plays into education, the report suggests key recommendations for educators and provides teaching resources to help put the findings into action.

Major League Baseball and ESPN team up with No Bully program to “Shred Hate” in schools

Major League Baseball is working with ESPN and the San-Francisco anti-bullying organization No Bully to “Shred Hate” in schools across the country.

MLB and ESPN launched the “Shred Hate” program at the 2017 X-Games that included teacher training and interventions in 35 schools in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis, along with several others in Colorado.

The initiative is designed around strategies developed by No Bully, such as student “solution teams” and non-confrontational conflict resolution, to help schools drastically reduce bullying incidents, detentions and other misbehavior, the Washington Blade reports.

The goal is to make it “cool” to oppose bullying, through public service announcements from famous athletes like gay skier Gus Kenworthy.

“We go in and we train the staff how to interrupt conflict and bullying in a very non-confrontational way,” Lynne Seifert, No Bully’s program coordinator for Shred Hate, told the Blade. “And we do that by using their social vision or their social contract.”

Students are also treated to visits to MLB stadiums to meet players like Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner, and Billy Bean, a gay former MLB player who now works as the league’s Vice President for Social Responsibility.

ESPN touted No Bully’s “interventions to prevent and stop bullying and cyber bullying in school and after school programs” as highly effective in reducing conflicts and guiding school leadership to “lead school culture change” by incorporating parents.

“The school joins with parents to prevent student bullying and cyberbullying through building a culture where every student is accepted for who they are,” according to the No Bully website.

Bean told the Blade the results from the first year of the Shred Hate program included an overall average attendance increase of six percent in the 35 participating schools over the previous year, as well as other encouraging “across the board numbers.”

“And they have decreased school suspensions by 50 percent,” Bean said. “They had a total of 175 detentions last year in those schools and they were down to only 47 this year.”

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, notes the importance of a cohesive message in forming character in students in his book “The Tragedy of Moral Education in America”:

Moral education can work where the community, and schools and other institutions within it, share a moral culture that is integrated and mutually reinforcing; where the social networks of adult authority are strong, unified, and consistent in articulating moral ideals and their attending virtues; and where adults maintain a ‘caring watchfulness’ over all aspects of a young person’s maturation.

Teachers, parents, and school officials can find more information about the No Bully approach at The website features several anti-bullying campaigns, testimonials and other details about how the program transforms school cultures.

According to the No Bully website, Most schools discover that a partnership with No Bully pays for itself through new enrollment and retaining students that they would otherwise have lost because of bullying.  

Wrestling camp offers lessons about character, life

Students at a private Philadelphia school are taking part in an annual wrestling camp that’s designed to help them perfect their character as much as their wrestling techniques.

According to Chestnut Hill Local:

In the basement of Smith Gym, an historic building with character that may remind some of underground gyms in the Rocky movies, campers learn new wrestling moves from their coach and guest athletes from all over the world. In its ninth year, this coed camp not only allows kids to master wrestling techniques and new moves, but also encourages values of integrity, respect, and hard work through fitness and friendship.

Wrestling camp director Paul Hammond told the news site the sport taught him dedication and focus, and he hopes to impart those virtues to students. He explained how wrestling can teach kids about patience and time-management, working as a team, treating opponents with fairness and kindness, and respecting their peers as well as themselves.

“I love that kids can let their summer energy out in a safe space, test and push themselves, and have a lot of fun,” he said.

Campers also learned life lessons and wrestling tips from top wrestlers, including Olympic wrestler Kazem Gholami, a Division 1 American University grappler turned Mixed Martial Artist Nick Kilstein, and others from local universities.

Gholami, who has used his platform to speak out against Iran’s social injustices, discussed single-leg takedowns, how to create angles, and timing, while also stressing how hard work and dedication in wrestling can transfer to other aspects of students’ lives, the news site reports.

“Our wrestling camp is a unique, active experience for kids to sharpen their competitive edge, practice focus and drive, and make friends,” German Friends School athletic director Katie Bergstrom Mark said.

“It was the first of its kind in the city and the program has grown immensely over the past nine years, offering campers access to former world and national caliber coaches and athletes, in addition to wrestlers from local universities,” she said.  “I am thrilled to see Coach Hammond put his own unique twist on the program and make this physically and mentally challenging sport a ton of fun.”

The wrestling camp is an example of the type of specific culture officials are cultivating in the German Friends School – a culture that ultimately shapes how students live their lives.

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, explains the following on character formation in “The Death of Character.”

“Spartan and Athenian cultures prescribed different content for character, not least because they had different ideas of the common good,” Hunter wrote. “In other words, moral cultures and the communities in which they are established provide the reasons, restraints, and incentives for conducting life in one way rather than another.”

The Positive Coaching Alliance offers resources for educators, parents, coaches and school officials to help create “better athletes, better people” through sports.

“In addition to 1,500+ free audio-video and printable tips and tools at, PCA has partnered with roughly 3,500 schools and youth sports organizations nationwide to deliver live group workshops, online courses and books by PCA Founder Jim Thompson that help those involved in youth and high school sports create a positive, character-building youth sports culture,” according to the PCA website.


Students work as anti-bullying ambassadors to encourage classmates to report incidents

Students at Witham, England’s Maltings Academy in Essex are taking action to confront bullying, and they’re focused on creating new, anonymous ways for students to report incidents.

Six students in year nine recently formed an anti-bullying council to work as ambassadors to encourage students to report bullying incidents through school staff. But the students also want to open up other ways their classmates can highlight problems without exposing their identity, the Clacton Gazette reports.

“Of course, (students) can speak with their teachers, but the ambassadors want to be able to offer alternative, anonymous ways to report problems that they also feel comfortable with,” said Mark Skinner, head of year nine. “The focus is not just on preventing bullying in school, but looking at the problems young people face online.”

The ambassadors will work with the whole student council to develop the anti-bullying strategies, a process that ultimately benefits all students, Skinner said.

“It is giving them some responsibility and it is great to see them so caring of others,” he said.

“The year nine students felt it would be beneficial to involve students at an early stage, so they are consulting with their peers and staff as to what approaches would work,” Emma Baker, head of Maltings Academy, told the Gazette.  “For example, they are thinking about how they can incorporate technology,” she said. “It’s great to see the students involved and raising awareness.”

Students and staff at Maltings are addressing the particular circumstances at the school with the new bullying reporting tools, and the focus on online bullying zeroes in on specific issues facing the school and countless others schools.

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, noted how that engagement plays an important role in developing strong character in students.

“We can only care for the young in their particularity,” Hunter wrote in “The Content of Their Character,” an analysis of character education work in a variety of schools. “If we are not attentive to and understanding of these contexts, we are not caring for real, live human beings, but rather abstractions that actually don’t exist at all.”

Teachers and principals interested in a whole-school approach to bullying that also targets specific aspects of the problem can find a vast array of resources from the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

The program offers free webinars, online courses, program implementation, and guidance on securing funding, all focused on reducing existing bulling, preventing future problems, and developing better relations between students.

“All students participate in most aspects of the program, while students identified as bullying others, or as targets of bullying, receive additional individualized interventions,” according to the Olweus website. “The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is designed to improve peer relations and make schools safer, more positive places for students to learn and develop.”

Eva Moskowitz on “Why schools should teach moral character”

Success Academy is well known for outstanding academic achievement: With 15,500 students, our network of 46 charter schools is the size of the seventh largest school district in New York State and had the highest percentages of students passing last year’s state math and reading exams. Last year, we received the prestigious Broad Prize for the “greatest academic performance and improvement while reducing achievement gaps among low-income students and students of color.” Four of our schools have earned National Blue Ribbons.

But we believe our students’ academic accomplishments are nothing if they do not also possess strong moral character. So in addition to teaching our scholars to be good readers, writers, mathematicians, and scientists, we believe they need to be people of high moral character who are self-reflective about their actions.

Teaching moral character scares many educators. That’s commonly because of a belief in relativism, an appropriate concern not to impose ideas by simple authority on a diverse student body. True, our school community is diverse. Our families, scholars, teachers, and staff do all not share the same values. And as educators we must be careful not to impose our own political or religious values on students. Yet I think we can all agree that schools can and should teach students honesty and kindness.

Ethics and good character are a part of our daily instruction. We do not have a character development curriculum because we don’t believe learning right from wrong is something that happens from 11:05–11:55 twice a week.  Rather, we have core values, and we teach them at the beginning of the year so that all new students know our north star—and we re-teach them throughout the year, since it’s easy to forget the what and the why.

At Success Academy, we mostly worry not about the kids, but the grownups. Ethics start with adults and filter to children. Respect for others and proper behavior are not just taught, but expected, modeled, and rewarded at Success Academy.

We spend much time on articulating and reinforcing what it means to be an ethical educator.  Our core beliefs include academic integrity, of course, but also center on respecting children and treating them with kindness and consistency.

We believe it is unethical to tell students reflexively they are doing a “great job” when in fact their work is poor. We believe it is unethical to pretend to valorize thinking but actually valorize procedures. We believe that, as educators, we must give students as much independence as possible, but not so much that their mistakes are fatal.

We expect our scholars to prize integrity and to make smart, ethical decisions. We know and fear the irreparable consequences that can result from one lapse in good judgment. But we also expect moral lapses and gaps. When we find them, we stop and address them with radical candor.

This has been one of the most important ingredients to our success. It is impossible to imagine our current academic excellence without this emphasis on high moral character.


Disabled National Honor Society grad explains how a new school changed his life trajectory

Charlottesville, Virginia High School senior Julian Smith has had a lot of struggles in life, but with the persistence of his aunt and teachers at the Virginia school he graduated as a member of the National Honor Society in June – a feat some thought he’d never accomplish.

Smith was born with cerebral palsy, quadriplegia and several intellectual disabilities, which made for a difficult childhood growing up with his grandmother in Maryland. He struggled in school, in part because of his physical issues, but also because his teachers had little faith he could perform at the same level as his peers, The Daily Progress reports.

By the time Smith entered ninth grade, school officials said he had the cognitive abilities of a second- or third-grader, but his aunt Joanna Moore knew better. When Smith’s grandmother could no longer care for him, Moore took over and pushed the teen to live up to his potential.

“Up until that point, everyone just saw the wheelchair, saw the level he cognitively tested at and assumed he couldn’t do the work, he couldn’t be in the general population classes,” Moore told the news site. “I know his capabilities and I knew how smart he was, and I knew I had to fight.”

Moore said it wasn’t easy. The two studied relentlessly to help Smith get through the basics.

“At first it was catching up: addition, subtraction, multiplication – things no one had ever thought he could learn and so no one had bothered to teach him,” Moore said. “That was a lot of work, and I think both of us struggled.”

“High school was very hard at first, just getting used to how everything worked and the speed, especially for me, because I can’t think as fast as other people can,” Smith said. “It took memory, a lot of studying and a lot of concentration.”

It also took a different kind of school – with educators who believed in him – to help Smith flourish. When the two moved to Charlottesville for Moore to attend the University of Virginia, Smith’s experience at school drastically changed.

Unlike his teachers in Maryland, educators at Charlottesville High School shared Moore’s confidence Smith could excel in his studies – and he did.

“He loved it, I loved it, he felt so supported,” Moore said. “They had so many different mechanisms to get him to succeed. They believed in him.”

On June 14, Smith graduated with honors and with acceptance letters from three universities: Wright State University in Ohio, Edinboro University in Pennsylvania and Old Dominion University in Norfolk, which he ultimately chose to stay close to home, The Daily Progress reports.

Smith’s inspiring story is one example of the profound impact adults can have on students – a reality researchers at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture noted in “The Content of Their Character,” an analysis of character education in a wide variety of schools.

“As a rule, students want their teachers to think well of them and respect them, and they recognize teachers as role models as they do other adults, such as coaches, administrators, and parents,” according to the study.

Without Moore and educators at Charlottesville High School, Smith undoubtedly would not have been so successful.

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers other examples of students “Flourishing From the Margins” to highlight how parents and educators can achieve similar results.

CultureFeed: Nine Million Reasons Why

“We shape culture,” states CultureFeed, the Foundation’s new website, “and culture shapes us.”

Readers of The Hedgehog Review will recognize this credo as a variation on Hedgehog’s tagline. But while CultureFeed’s premises may be familiar, the site has a goal, tone, and audience entirely its own.

Where Hedgehog drills deep into the substrata of contemporary culture, CultureFeed surveys the cultural landscape and encourages cultural leaders and communicators to ensure Americans don’t lose sight of our common future and the common good. In contrast to the thrust and parry of Hedgehog’s intellectual discourse, CultureFeed’s journalistic prose popularizes Institute language in order to clarify, persuade, and enlighten—to stimulate leaders’ mindfulness and resolve on the field of action.

For now, CultureFeed is focused on K–12 schooling, reaching out to educators and education leaders about the need to help mold the private and public character of our young. Featuring essays by pioneers like Eva Moskowitz and international analysts like Andreas Schleicher, CultureFeed seeks to reorient a necessary debate about academic achievement into a broader and more powerful discussion of character and achievement as private and public goods. CultureFeed strives to inspire educators to develop a better future for students both as individuals and as citizens of a democratic society.

The website’s reach has been encouraging. Since CultureFeed’s launch in October, more than 1,850,000 users have visited the site, viewing an average of 4.44 CultureFeed pages per session for a total of more than nine million page views. This exceptional market penetration has been due in no small part to targeted online promotion made possible by the Foundation’s donors. This has demonstrated demand for the Foundation’s research-based insights.

In time, CultureFeed will expand to address such fields of Institute research as democracy, religion, work, business, and economics. Broadening the audience exposed to the Institute’s work is a key part of the Foundation’s new effort to reinvigorate the public-spirited virtues that the Institute’s research so clearly shows we need.

Teachers organization wants state’s school safety focus on restorative justice, not increased security

Kevin Hickerson, president of the Fairfax Education Association in Virginia is urging state lawmakers to focus on restorative justice, rather than additional security measures, to keep students safe in schools.

The high school special education teacher recalled in a recent column for The Virginian-Pilot how he identified a troubled student at his school years ago, and how officials “challenged him to aspire to more than just becoming another statistic.”

“It was a genuine rescue operation, and I’m delighted to say that I ran into Travis recently,” Hickerson wrote. “He’s now a college student who will also be a college graduate soon, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the right support system.”

Virginia’s House Select Committee on School Safety is working to recommend ways schools can increase safety in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting, and Hickerson believes the lessons he learned from his former student’s experience are important.

Hickerson wrote:

The best solutions won’t be found by just further locking down our school buildings and adding more resource officers; that will mostly further a bunker-like environment and mentality. Instead, we must address the underlying causes of violent episodes in our schools — bullying, trauma experienced by students outside of school, the shortage of support professionals in schools, discrimination and other factors. …

Schools work best for everyone — and the chances of violence in them are greatly reduced — when relationships between staff and students, and among students themselves, are built on respect and collaboration. Restorative justice discipline policies and the teaching of conflict resolution are important factors in creating this kind of positive school climate.

The Fairfax Education Association president also called for discussions to focus on “common-sense ways to reduce” the impact of guns in schools.

Hickerson’s perspective aligns with union policies that typically advocate for increased manpower and spending in schools, while others argue schools could use existing resources more efficiently to produce better outcomes.

Regardless, the influence of adults on students, as illustrated by Hickerson’s experience and countless others, can be profound. Researchers with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture examined character education programs in a wide variety of schools, and summarized the findings in “The Content of Their Character.”

“What these case studies (in high schools across the U.S.) … consistently show is the importance of informal articulation of a moral culture through the example of teachers and other adults in the school community,” wrote editors James Davison Hunter and Ryan S. Olson.

Educators can encourage students to follow their example through lessons like “The Virtue of Friendliness and Civility” from the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues.

A focus on helping students develop virtues like friendliness and civility not only supports the kind of school culture that draws troubles students in, rather than cast them out, it provides a means for students to disagree respectfully without resorting to violence.

“Those who have strengthened this virtue make particularly sociable and personable companions,” according to the lesson. “When called to oppose or criticize others, this is done with flair and gentleness. They are able to be open-minded and tolerant of others, but can challenge in non-confrontational or non-aggressive ways when words and deeds are morally unacceptable.”


Sacramento school district changes approach to discipline

The Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) is changing how it approaches student discipline, joining a growing number of districts adopting a “restorative justice” approach aimed at reducing too many suspensions of black and Hispanic students.

Alex Barrios, spokesman for the California district, told the News Review officials are focusing on keeping misbehaving students in school by directing them to mediated talking sessions or other counseling, rather than sending them home or isolating them with in-school suspension.  One of the most perverse outcomes of suspensions is that students who are suspended miss valuable instruction time in the classroom which undermines their ability to achieve successful results on course examinations.

Barrios said the new approach is intended to “ensure that our system is more focused on helping students understand how their actions impact others and holding them accountable for those actions, rather than punishing them.”

The idea is to confront student discipline issues through talking sessions designed to better understand the life circumstances, such as poverty or trauma, that may contribute to bad behavior. The Sacramento district created an Equity Office and launched a SPARK program – social emotional learning, positive relationships, analysis of data, restorative practices, and kindness – to train teachers in restorative justice techniques. Restorative justice, although not a punishment, does not let wrongdoers off the hook.

The new approach is energizing some teachers, while others are concerned about a lack of support for educators to implement the restorative justice measures.

“I’ve been in SCUSD for 20 years, and it’s the same speech,” one participant in the district’s 2016 SPARK conference told the News Review. “I understand there is implicit bias. I want to help my students, but the conversation never goes beyond that fact that implicit bias exists. What specific things can my school do to include and support all of our students? The first step is being aware that there is a problem, but then what? The workshops never get past the first step.”

  1. Luke Wood, an education professor at San Diego State University, outlined the discipline problems in Sacramento in a new study titled “The Capitol of Suspensions: Examining the Racial Exclusion of Black Males in Sacramento County,” which reveals the capital city district has suspended more black boys than any other district in the state, including larger districts like Los Angeles.

Wood believes restorative justice programs work well for students involved from an early age, but not as well for students who came up through traditional disciplinary programs. To help with the transition, Wood suggests schools install video cameras in classrooms to help teachers perfect their restorative justice techniques.

“Teachers need game film, and they need to be able to have an understanding of what they’re doing better,” he said. “This doesn’t mean they’re bad people. But good people can still do harmful things.”

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, identifies the importance of cultivating a shared vision of morality to instill strong character virtues in students when he writes in “The Tragedy of Moral Education in America”:

(The) components of morality are expressed in a community’s institutions, including its moral rules. It is a shared understanding of the world by which a community knows what is right and wrong, what is normal and abnormal, what is possible and not possible, how to distinguish the good person from the bad. When it functions well, our moral culture binds us, compels us, obliges us, in ways of which we are not fully aware.

Moving away from punitive systems of discipline is hard work culturally. It takes time to reshape the assumptions of teachers and students alike, and failure to lead that cultural transformation will produce frustration. The State of Illinois offers a guide to implementing restorative justice. For school systems that are going to take the long road to restorative practices, it is worth investigating the time and energy to do it well.

AL students recognized for character, leadership in high school sports

Seven student athletes from Alabama’s Opelika High School won recognition from the Alabama High School Athletic Association in July, a testament to the school’s sharp focus on developing character.

Alabama state Senator Tom Whatley presented the students with the AHSAA’s Award of Excellence to recognize their athletic integrity during the 2017-18 school year. Opelika tied with another school for the most students to receive the award, which the AHSAA created this year, the Opelika-Auburn News reports.

“Character education is a big deal in Opelika City School,” principal Farrell Seymore said. “It’s permeated throughout the elementary schools, middle school and high school.”

The awards went to James Dawson, 16, who played football and wrestled; Timothy Scott, a 17-year-old senior wrestler; Bulldog quarterback Cade Blackmon, 17; 15-year-old wide receiver and basketball player Will Beams; Londarius Baldwin, a senior offensive guard; 17-year-old wrestler Cole Lazzari; and Caylin Cumins, a 16-year-old senior wide receiver and basketball player.

“All of these kids are great character kids,” football coach Erik Speakman said. “Everything that they do embodies the awards they’re being presented today. They are great representatives of our entire football program.”

OHS Athletic Director Mike Pugh said the recognition highlights students who excel with “both with their leadership and their academic qualities, as well as athletics.”

The students were grateful and humble.

“I just feel really blessed,” Dawson said. “I thank all my coaches and family for getting me here.”

“I think it’s an honor to get an award for sportsmanship. It really just shows how athletes are brought up and shows how we don’t take things too hard whether we win or lose,” Scott said.

Blackmon said “it’s really a privilege to know someone’s watching and cared enough to nominate me for this award.”

“Our coaches put us in this place to receive this award, and we’re thankful for everyone here,” Baldwin said.

Whatley reflected on his U.S. Army basic training in 1988, when athletes who communicated and motivated others who became the natural leaders, and encouraged students to embrace what they learned at OHS.

“So wherever you go in life, high school athletics has taught you leadership abilities you probably don’t even realize right now,” he said. “And I want to congratulate each one of you for that.”

Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture suggest sports can be a powerful venue for character formation, particularly when it’s grounded in a shared community.

“Spartan and Athenian cultures prescribed different content for character, not least because they had different ideas of the common good,” University of Virginia sociologist and Institute founder James Davison Hunter wrote in “The Death of Character.”

“In other words, moral cultures and the communities in which they are established provide the reasons, restraints, and incentives for conducting life in one way rather than another.”

The Skills Center, a Florida-based nonprofit, offers an example of how schools and others can meld the focus on building character through sports with developing life skills and academics.

The group offers training, camps, leagues, mentorship, tutoring and other special events like an upcoming “Tampa Bay Youth Sports Expo” to help students succeed in school and life.