Dothan City Schools is launching a new civics education initiative that will help connect hundreds of Alabama middle school students with role models from American history to tackle subjects like character development, civic responsibility, financial literacy and others.

“Not everyone has great examples of character building in our lives, so to have a component like this in our school system, where we are investing again in our youth, is a huge peace that will come back to pay large dividends for our community,” Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba said at a press conference announcing the new “American Character Program” in August.

The program is a joint venture between DCS, the Liberty Learning Foundation, and the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce, which donated $30,000 to bring the program to about 650 students at Girard, Honeysuckle, Beverlye Magnet, and Carver middle schools, the Dothan Eagle reports.

Patti Yancey, who founded the Liberty Learning Foundation provide “civic education programs and live experience that improve child, community and country,” told those in attendance at the Girard Middle School press conference that the 10- to 12-week program focused on building students’ character wouldn’t be possible without buy in from school officials and other local leaders.

“One person can’t do it by themselves; one organization can’t do it by themselves,” she said. “(DCS Superintendent) Dr. Edwards, (DCS Director of Curriculum) Teresa Davis, and (DCS Board Chairman) Mike Schmitz are just great at putting their money where their mouth is, and putting their purpose where their mouth is of truly seeing the whole child and not just the academic side.”

Darius McKay, principal of Girard Middle School, agreed that the American Character Program will undoubtedly have a positive impact on students in the school this year, but said he expects a ripple effect that could carry over for years to come.

“(When siblings of middle school students) look up to their middle school brother or sister and see they’re setting a good example, that may rub off on you,” McKay said. “(The program) will encourage students to have conversations about doing the right thing and honoring your country and things of that nature.”

“As our kids have conversations about what’s right to do,” he said, “incidents of wrong things won’t happen.”

James Davison Hunter, author of “The Death of Character,” points out that helping students develop a sense of morality – through historic role models or other means - is a crucial component of effective character education.

“(W)e must acquire a moral sensibility – we learn what is right and wrong, good and bad, what is to be taken seriously, ignored, or rejected as abhorrent – and we learn, in moments of uncertainty, how to apply our moral imagination to different circumstances,” Hunter wrote. “Over time, we acquire a sense of obligation and the discipline to follow them.”

For students and adults alike, the sense of obligation comes with a desire to help others through service projects or other contributions to the community. The nonprofit Learning to Give offers a starting point for helping students develop their passion, or “spark,” and “build self-efficacy, empathy for others, and confidence in one’s ability to do something to make a difference in the world.”

“Developing and nurturing one's spark is the result of a three-part formula. First, you have to know your spark. Second, you need three champions (family, school, community) who help you develop your spark. Third, you must have the opportunity and the freedom to develop your spark,” according to “When students follow this formula, they not only find their spark, they thrive with it and experience school success, engagement, compassion and a sense of purpose.”


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