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.