Students leaders blend lessons from military, sports to serve a greater purpose

Two student athletes at George Washington University are sharing how the lessons they’ve learned through years of military training and team sports have prepared them to excel as leaders.

Senior Riley Tejcek, an infielder on the George Washington University softball team, participated in the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Course over the last two summers, and sophomore swimmer and diver Nick Tomczyk is simultaneously training for the Naval Reserves.

And while the physical aspects of the military programs have undoubtedly helped to keep the students in top form, both contend it’s the military’s leadership mentality of serving a higher purpose that has benefitted them the most, the GW Hatchet reports.

“It’s all about the team unit, it’s not about you, it’s about the people next to you,” Tejcek said. “That’s the important thing, is it’s not about you.”

The students discussed their grueling schedules, from early morning workouts before a day full of classes to rigorous military training sessions and Division I championships.

“Once I’m done with one thing, I focus on the next thing and that’s how I get through it,” said Tomcyzk, a squad leader in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Crops. “I take it one step at a time each day.”

Tomcyzk said he’s using lessons learned in the water to guide his seven-person platoon.

“Being a part of a team definitely helps because I’m learning from the captains of the swim and dive team how they’re being leaders,” he said. “I can take stuff off of them and transfer it to the unit to be a leader.”

Tejcek said the selfless approach to team work in the Marine Corps mirrored her approach as captain of the softball team, both providing the “rewarding experience” of serving something bigger then herself.

“Those are the people that are going to impact me the rest of my life,” she said. “Above all else is the relationships with people I’ve met along the way that keeps me going and keeps me motivated, absolutely.”

Researchers at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture discussed the “thick” and “dense” moral culture common in the military and team sports in “The Content of Their Character,” a summary of character education programs in a variety of U.S. high schools.

Through numerous interviews and observations, researchers noted “the source and setting for moral and civic education matter – that the ‘thickness’ of cultural endowments and the ‘density’ of moral community within which those endowments find expression are significant in the formation of personal and public virtue in children.”

The career site The Balance Careers offers an outline of the United States Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Course for students and school counselors exploring career options. The program involves a very dense moral community through weeks-long summer training sessions, while offering tax-free monthly stipends, tuition assistance and training pay.

Upon graduating from college, students are commissioned as officers in the U.S. Marines and go on to attend six months of basic training.

Officials at suburban Pittsburgh’s Thomas Jefferson High School want students to know what to expect when they violate the rules

Michael Ghilani, West Jefferson Hills superintendent, told the Tribune-Review that in years past there’s been a “perception in the district” that “students are treated differently, depending on who they are,” so administrators created a discipline matrix to clarify expected behavior and consequences for violations.

Over the last seven months, school leaders developed clear definitions for more than 60 student infractions, along with a progressive set of punishments for repeat offenses, and published the matrix in this year’s school handbook, which was approved by board members in August.

“One of the things we heard from parents was, when things are reported, nothing is ever done about it,” Ghilani said.

“We want our discipline and how we treat students to be rooted in fairness and teaching. I think when there’s ambiguous expectations or there’s a perception that everyone is treated differently, it leads to an environment (where) there is not a lot of trust,” Ghilani said. “We wanted to firm that up by having a very open, transparent and clear code of conduct.”

Ghilani said punishments for misbehavior include both punitive and restorative elements, with a particular focus on rooting out bullying.

“There are a lot of offenses, like assault, like bullying, that have a restorative piece to it,” he said. “Restorative actions that actually look to heal and change the environment and culture do have a lasting impact on the student environment and culture and actually teach.”

Thomas Jefferson principal Pete Murphy stressed that all school leaders will use the matrix to ensure the message and response to student misbehavior is consistent, which makes the process easier for both students and staff. Parents are also required to sign off on the student handbook to ensure they’ve reviewed the document.

“We want kids to know where we stand,” he said. “We want to draw the line very clear for them.”

“I think the good news is that we’re all on the same page,” school board president Brian Fernandes added. “We’re all pushing towards this common goal, which is a transparent approach that parents will understand and students will understand what the expectations are and also what the ramifications are when the expectations are not met.”

The matrix also provides students with a sense of moral autonomy to make informed ethical decisions, based on clearly outlined consequences for specific behavior.

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, pointed out in “The Death of Character” that moral autonomy is important because “controlled behavior cannot be moral behavior, for it removes the element of discretion and judgement.”

Restorative practices included in the matrix provide another avenue for students to freely atone for their behavior and gain the moral autonomy to do the right thing, for the right reasons.

The West Jefferson Hills School District published a copy of the discipline matrix on its website, which can also servesas a reference for educators developing discipline policies in their schools.

Analysis shows school violence on the rise, majority of incidents in just 10 states

A recent analysis by the Educator’s School Safety Network found incidents of school violence occur in every part of the country, though more than half of the incidents in the 2017-18 school year occurred in just 10 states.

The Network – a nonprofit “dedicated to empowering educators with education-based school safety training and resources” – reports that the top 10 worst states for school violence include California, Florida, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Illinois, North Carolina and Virginia. A total of 1,851 threats or violent incidents occurred in those states, or roughly 51 percent of the nationwide total of 3,654, USA Today reports.

The nationwide total, meanwhile, increased significantly from a total of 2,085 incidents the year prior.

Experts told the news site the results are influenced by a multitude of factors, but one common theme seemed to be the number of school districts in the state. Amy Klinger, director of programs for ESSN, told USA Today that increasing bureaucracy likely complicates efforts to coordinate responses to violent incidents.

Klinger offered Ohio as an example. The Buckeye State hosts 613 school districts, she said, and officials recorded 170 threats and 14 violent incidents last school year.

“It’s very difficult to make sweeping changes when you have 613 different government bodies making decisions,” she said.

School safety remains in the spotlight in the wake of a deadly rampage at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, an incident that sparked protests for gun control and efforts in virtually all states to control school violence.

The federal government has also dedicated $1 billion to help schools prevent violence over the next decade.

Klinger pointed out that while the bulk of the incidents are concentrated in certain states, school violence is a problem that’s plaguing communities across the country.

“We have seen that there are threats and incidents of violence that occur in literally every state,” she said. “So, it’s really incumbent upon every school to take a look at what they need to do.”

The ESSN research suggests improved communication and coordination between school districts and law enforcement could be an important element to keeping kids safe.

That increased communication would also undoubtedly result in a more consistent message that threats, violence, and other bad behavior simply won’t be tolerated at school. It’s an approach researchers at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture contend is the most effective for character education.

Institute founder James Davison Hunter wrote in “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 ideas and their attending virtues; where adults maintain a ‘careful watchfulness’ over all aspects of a young person’s maturation.

Parents, educators and others working to end school violence can find a plethora of information about risk and protective factors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC website breaks down the individual, family, peer and social risk factors contributing to the problem, as well as other resources that offer “Opportunities for Action.”

Barbados teachers learn restorative practices to address student discipline

The island nation of Barbados may soon officially adopt restorative practices as part of its national education model, according to a Canadian social justice group who works to train educators on an alternative approach to student discipline.

Velma Newton, regional director of the Canada-based IMPACT Justice, told Barbados TODAY the group has trained 219 Barbadian educators out of 867 in the Caribbean on restorative practices, which aim to create discussion and conversations and repair relationships when student conflicts arise.

The intervention method, which has also gained momentum in U.S. school districts in recent years, is based on restorative justice practices in the criminal justice system dating back to the 1970s that rely on mediation and reconciliation between offenders and victims, rather than punishments or zero-tolerance policies.

“We have trained over 100 educators in Barbados. We have done principals, deputy principals, guidance counselors, ordinary teachers, education officers, representatives of all groups in the educational system … because we firmly believe that the restorative practices, the principles, if properly applied, can help to curb violence,” Newton told the news site.

Newton said IMPACT Justice is working with Senior Education Officer Patricia Warner and Guidance Counselor Julia Edey to train all educators on restorative practices. The group also hopes to include the principal of the local Erdiston Teachers Training College in those sessions, as well, “because we would like restorative practices to be included in their curriculum so that as class teachers are trained, they would get used to the concepts and how to apply them in schools.”

The intent is to eventually create a regional association to advocate for restorative practices in all schools, Newton said, adding that Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw seemingly supports the effort.

Newton wrote to Bradshaw about including restorative justice in the curriculum, and “her response shows that she is willing to look at restorative practices as something that can be included in the curriculum, not necessarily in secondary schools … (but) certainly we include it as a practice,” Newton told Barbados TODAY.

Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture have noted the significant impact school culture has on students’ character, and why efforts to create a positive learning environment is critical.

Institute founder James Davison Hunter wrote 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.

While IMPACT Justice and other groups focus on restorative practices designed to repair harm stemming from student conflicts, others offer resources for preventing school violence, bullying, suicide and other issues in advance.

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, for one, offers a “prevention curriculum,” suggestions for a “peaceful school bus,” “comprehensive suicide awareness,” and other materials to help parents and educators to keep kids safe at school.

The Olweus site features online courses and reports about bullying, readiness assessments and training certifications, as well.

DC schools search for new chancellor ‘with a deep moral compass’

District of Columbia Public Schools is hosting public forums as part of its second search for a new chancellor in as many years, and it’s clear many are looking to avoid ethical issues that plagued prior administrations.

DCPS’ most recent chancellor, Antwan Wilson, resigned in February for bypassing the district’s admissions lottery process to transfer his daughter to a limited enrollment high school – the same exact issue that led to the departure of the previous chancellor, Kaya Henderson, WAMU reports.

The situation wasn’t lost on those who participated in the public forums in August and September, when many spoke of the importance of selecting a new leader with strong character.

“Given the history we have in the city, I think we need a chancellor with a deep moral compass,” Anacostia High School volunteer Aaron Jenkins told WAMU. “(We need) someone that has an understanding of not only the job they have to do as chancellor but also a deeper awareness of right and wrong.”

Emily Mechner, a mother of three students at Oyster Adams Bilingual School, echoed Jenkins’ sentiments.

“A lot of people at our table were really interested in our chancellor having a real strong ethical center, to have a real clear moral sense of what is right and what’s important for the schools and the community,” Mechner said.

Participants also identified a performance gap between schools in the district, the accessibility of central office officials, and a need for more family engagement as top priorities. D.C. Interim Deputy Mayor for Education Ahnna Smith and her staff documented the public forums, and she said “the mayor and committee members would receive a synthesized report of all the public forums”.

The city will consider the feedback, as well as comments submitted online, as committee members wade through applicants for a new chancellor.

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, wrote about how a person’s character is largely the product of a broader moral culture that includes school, home life, media, relationships and countless other factors.

“This moral culture not only gives us our ethical understanding, it also tells us who we are,” Hunter wrote in “The Tragedy of Moral Education in America” “It provides us with an understanding of what it means to be human and what kind of human we should ideally be.”

Great Hearts Academies offers a video about what the non-profit public charter school network is doing to develop future leaders schools and communities can depend on, with the character and integrity to serve others honorably.

In the video “Building Goodness by Building Character” students and school officials explain why Great Hearts is focused strongly on character formation, and why it’s important for the future.

“It’s not just about producing brilliant kids,” Great Hearts co-founder Daniel Scoggin said, “but brilliant kids who have the character to deploy that talent for a good that’s greater than themselves.”

Detroit school district partners with private funder to create ‘cradle-to-career’ learning center

The Detroit Public Schools Community District’s newest school will feature a first-of-its-kind “cradle to career” approach to education through a partnership with the University of Michigan and a private donor.

School board members in September approved a new school on the campus of Marygrove College that will feature an early childhood center funded by the Kresge Foundation, a K-12 school staffed by the school district, and a medical school-style residency program for educators from the University of Michigan, the Detroit Free Press reports.

“I’m really excited that we’re doing something innovative at this new school,” said board member Sonya Mays, who also commended Superintendent Nikolai Vitti for the project “because I know it was not an easy get.”

District spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson told the news site “if this goes the way that it has been planned … what I can say is that it will be a state-of-the-art program and partnership and it will be one of a kind nationwide.”

Board members did not discuss details, but materials distributed at the meeting state “the school’s focus will be social justice and leadership through engineering.”

“The school will (strive) to serve neighborhood students while offering seats to students outside of the area,” the materials read.

“Once we get input from the community, then we’ll be able to move forward in understanding how many students will be enrolled, and the resources we’ll need at that point,” Wilson told the Free Press.

Marygrove College largely abandoned its northwest Detroit campus after steep enrollment declines in recent years, despite the Kresge Foundation’s support of both the college and the community. The new partnership allows DPSCD to lease the campus for no more than $1 a year, which opens up a unique opportunity to serve students from birth through to adulthood.

“As the District continues to improve enrollment, innovative and unique schools/programs are necessary to recruit and retain students and families,” according to the board materials. “This innovative school offers Detroit families … a traditional public school experience while addressing its human capital needs.”

Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture noted the importance of a school’s structure and connection to the community in “The Content of Their Character,” a summary of character education in a wide variety of American high schools.

“How a school is organized, the course structure and classroom practices, the relationship between the school and outside civic institutions – all these matter in the moral and civic formation of the child,” wrote James Davison Hunter, editor and Institute founder.

Much of the new school’s focus will undoubtedly center on preparing students for college, and there’s a lot students and teachers can do to increase success beyond high school.

Education Corner offers a plethora of resources and advice on what students in high school today can do to prepare themselves for the challenges of higher education, from developing good study habits to money management, admissions and financial aid tips, and timelines for the application process.

Students march on September 11 to honor first responders

Students at Muskogee, Oklahoma’s Early Childhood Center may not fully understand the gravity of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but they’re getting a sense of the American spirit that brought the country together in the wake of that horrific day.

“This is great to see 4-year-old children honor and remember what this day means for our country,” District Attorney Orvil Loge told the Muskogee Phoenix as children paraded down Broadway waiving tiny American flags.

The youngsters spent the 17th anniversary of 9/11 participating in an annual march the school has held since 2002 to pay tribute to those who lost their lives, as well as local first responders who keep the community safe.

“Ever since then, it’s just gotten bigger and better,” ECC Principal Malinda Lindsey said.

Lindsay told the news site the intent is to focus on character virtues like cooperation, respect and citizenship, while getting kids out in the community to show their patriotism.

This year’s march kicked off with an assembly to give thanks to veterans and first responders, followed by a walk to the Muskeogee Public Schools Board of Education Service and Technology Center, where administrators dolled out cookies and congratulations.

A large fire truck, police cruisers and an ambulance escorted the children, who wore crafted paper hats, American flags and chanted “USA, USA!”

“It’s so fun to just watch them walk down the street,” Muskogee Public Schools Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall told the Phoenix. “They seem to be really excited about it.”

The superintendent said the march is part of the district’s effort to promote citizenship “and being part of our country.”

“And I think this starts early,” he said. “Doing this parade is one of those moments you can do that with kids and teach them it’s really important to be a good citizen and celebrate being an American.”

Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture point out that the way school teach citizenship matters as much as the content of citizenship because character and citizenship are formed through shared social practices.

IASC founder James Davison Hunter wrote in “The Death of Character”:

Character is not … solitary, autonomous, unconstrained; merely a set of traits within a unique and unencumbered personality. Character is very much social in its constitution. It is inseparable from the culture within which it is found and formed.

The Association for Citizenship Teaching offers numerous resources for educators and others to help students develop the knowledge, skills and understanding to participate as active and responsible citizens.

Those resources include a Citizenship Curriculum, as well as projects, journals, awards and other advice.

WA revises student discipline rules to focus on keeping kids in school

Washington state’s new school discipline rules will continue to shift schools away from suspensions and expulsions in favor of policies that keep kids in the building for minor offenses.

The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction recently adopted updated rules for student discipline as part of a broader effort to close opportunity gaps between students of different races.

The new rules, which were crafted through feedback from students, parents, educators and community leaders, will be phased in over the next two years, the Snoqualmie Valley Record reports.

For 2018-19, the state is prohibiting schools from suspending or expelling any student for excessive absences or tardiness, with additional restrictions set for next school year. The new rules encourage schools to use best practices to minimize suspensions and expulsions, particularly in response to behaviors that do not pose a threat to school safety. The rules will also ban the expulsion of students through fourth grade, and require schools to clarify how students can continue their education if they are suspended or expelled for students above grade four.

Snoqualmie Valley School District Assistant Superintendent Jeff Hogan told the news site he supports the changes, which are consistent with his district’s move toward a softer student discipline approach in recent years.

“We started changing our policies to keep students in school and engaged rather than stunt their education over more minor offenses,” Hogan said. “Back in the day if a student skipped school, it was the policy to suspend them. Seems kind of counterproductive, don’t you think?”

The new state rules ensure suspended or expelled students can participate in the general education curriculum to complete their classwork and graduation requirements, though those sent home for more than 10 days will now be required to secure a reengagement plan before returning to school, the Valley Record reports.

At Snoqualmie Valley and other districts, officials plan to rely more on punishments like community service, restitution and in-school suspensions to keep kids learning when they’re out of class.

“Our goals are to give appropriate discipline to students and to shorten suspension and get kids reengaged as quickly as possible for when they are suspended for serious offenses,” Hogan said.

Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture have noted how discipline policies help students do the right thing can be more effective than simply imposing punishment.

Institute founder James Davison Hunter explains in “The Death of Character” that moral autonomy is an individual’s capacity to freely make ethical decision, because “controlled behavior cannot be moral behavior, for it removes the element of discretion and judgement.”

By helping students work through conflicts and behavior issues, through restorative justice practices or counseling that help them freely atone for their behaviors, they gain the moral autonomy to do the right thing, for the right reasons.

The blog Academike takes a deeper look at “Reformative Theory of Punishment,” as well as the concept of restorative justice that’s taking root in both schools and the criminal justice system.

“Crime is a violation of people and relationships. It creates obligations to make things right,” according to the blog. “Justice involves the victim, the offender, and the community in a search for solutions that promote repair, reconciliation and reassurance.”


Alternative thinking about student discipline in schools

Schools across the country, and California as well, are rethinking school discipline in an effort to reduce suspensions for black students, both through restorative justice programs and policy changes focused on keeping unruly students in school.

Supporters of the new approach have pointed to evidence in suspension data in calls on U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to continue policies designed to reduce the racial discipline gap, while others are outlining nuances in discipline data to understand contributing factors, The 74 Million reports.

“So much of the debate centers on whether schools are being too dismissive or overly punitive, and factors like school structure, which data show correlates to suspension rates, tends to get overlooked,” Tom Loveless, an education policy researcher for the Bookings Institution, told the education site.

Loveless published a report in 2017 on out -of-school suspensions in California schools that examined trends between 2012 and 2015. The study focused on students in schools with more than 50 students, and excluded data from alternative schools, juvenile delinquent facilities and those serving students with disabilities.

According to The 74, Loveless found:

–        Among schools that suspend a disproportionate number of black students, school size tends to correlate with suspension rates. The rates of suspensions for black students went up as school size increased.

–        Suspension rates for black students tend to peak in middle school and then fall in high school.

–        Black students are more likely to be suspended when they attend segregated or “racially isolated” schools than when they attend majority-white or mixed-race schools.

Loveless and other education experts are only starting to understand what the trends mean, but it’s obvious that the structure of schools have an impact on outcomes.

“Loveless’s research suggests there are factors within school districts’ control that impact suspension rates but have little to do with actual discipline policies,” the education site reports. “One factor is school size, particularly middle schools. Loveless noted that school size could be adjusted by reassigning students to different schools or building new ones.”

Another factor that’s less researched is students’ character formation.

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, highlighted the critically important role schools play in shaping the morality and character of students in his book “The Tragedy of Moral Education in America.”

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

Schools with a strong moral culture compel students to show kindness and compassion for their classmates, teachers and others, which reduces disciplinary problems.

The Community School for Social Justice and others are working to create that kind of atmosphere with restorative justice practices, such as fairness committees in lieu of suspensions.  However, restorative justice does not the offender off the hook.

“The Fairness Committee of The Community School for Social Justice is a restorative justice model of school discipline. This mode enforces positive conflict resolution, emphasizing on the violation of community norms established by all members of the school community,” according to the school website. “Fairness Committee seeks to encourage dialogue amongst community members in order to come to reach a consensus on appropriate consequences for those violations rather than handing out punishments.”

Texas middle-schoolers focus on leadership, service work, and financial responsibility

At Texas’ White Oak Middle School, students are learning about leadership, setting goals, career opportunities, and service work.

It’s part of an effort to give students “extra encouragement” to become role models for their classmates and others, and to help develop kids into responsible, respectable citizens who contribute to their community, the Longview News-Journal reports.

About 40 students enrolled in semester-long courses in leadership or career investigations this year, assistant superintendent Mitzi Neely said, and school officials are already noticing a “mindset shift” that’s making a positive impact.

“I had a student that came to me at the beginning of class who said, ‘I just wanted you to know I had a situation, and I wanted you to know how I handled it,’” Neely told the news site. “It was the total opposite of what he would’ve done four weeks ago, and he said, ‘It’s just about taking the high road … and not give in to what the negativity is.’”

Neely and White Oak principal Becky Balboa are working with the leadership students, while coach Roy Boyett leads the career investigations course, which involves online modules, personality and career survey, question-and-answer sessions with local professionals, job fairs and other work to help students get a head start on planning for high school and beyond.

In the leadership class, the focus is on developing character virtues, personal finance and service projects like a recent luncheon to give thanks to local police and firefighters on September 11, the News-Journal reports.

“I think (the community service project) will help us be more thankful for what they do for us,” eighth-grader Landyn Grant told the news site.

The intent, classmate Dyllon Heist said, is to show “a great respect for what they do.”

Heist told the News-Journal that while he initially signed up for the leadership course to spend time with Landyn, his best friend, the class has ultimately helped him “be a better person.”

“After being in there for a couple of weeks, it was like I’m having fun with Landyn, plus I’m learning,” he said. “(Before the class) I was, like, ‘I’m going to fight everybody,’ but taking the high road’s better. It really taught me to be a better person.”

The approach at White Oak Middle School is similar to “alternative pedagogy” schools in that it provides needed context for moral formation.

David Sikkink, researcher with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, explained how alternative pedagogy schools work in “The Content of Their Character,” a summary of character education in a wide variety of different U.S. high schools.

At alternative pedagogy schools, Sikkink noted “a distinctive organization and distinctive practices and orientations that generated a particular context for student moral and civic formation,” as well as “a fairly explicit understanding of student formation goals, which to a large extent were an outgrowth of an alternative vision of the educational task.”

The Jubilee Center for Character and Virtues provides resources for educators who want to help students develop their own “good sense,” a foundational concept that factors into everything from leadership to college and career planning to community service work.

“Living with ‘good sense’ sets out the ways and means of realizing the good in the down to earth, concrete realities of any given situation,” according to the lesson “An Intellectual Virtue: Good Sense.” “When it is well practiced, it enables suppleness in the face of the complexities of the ethical life. It is the essence of a life well-lived.”