NEW PROVIDENCE, N.J. – New Providence schools superintendent David Miceli contends quality character education isn’t the result of “an occasional presentation,” but rather a community-wide effort to ingrain shared values into both local culture and school curriculums.

Miceli was joined by New Providence Mayor Al Morgan, New Jersey Commissioner of Education Kimberly Harrington, and County Superintendent Juan Torres earlier this month at New Providence High School to celebrate the district’s recent recognition as one of only four National Districts of Character.

The awards are bestowed by Character.org, which works with state affiliates to highlight school districts “that demonstrate a dedicated focus on character development programs and a positive impact on academic achievement, student behavior, school climate and their communities.”

“Through an in-depth and rigorous evaluation process, these schools were found to be exemplary models of character development,” according to the organization’s website.

School board president Adam Smith told students, parents, staff, and others at the award event that character education doesn’t work without families and a community that embraces volunteerism, Tap into New Providence reports.

“Education is more than algebra, language arts and history,” he said. “Our character education is based on integrity, fairness, respect and responsibility.”

The foundation of the program—an approach that incorporates parents and the community—is central to developing good character in students, according to James Davison Hunter, distinguished University of Virginia sociology professor and author of The Tragedy of Moral Education.

"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,” Hunter writes.

“These are environments where intellectual and moral virtues are not only naturally interwoven in a distinctive moral ethos, but embedded within the structure of communities.”

Miceli told CultureFeed that lessons on good character have existed in silos at different schools in the district since the early 2000s, "but students wouldn't necessarily come away understanding that was part of our character education program."

"They wouldn't necessarily connect all the dots," he said.

It wasn't until schools began to focus lessons on an annual theme at different schools that things began to click.

"They made tremendous progress with that and it pulled in community members," he said. "From there, it just grew and other schools started taking on their own themes."

Four years ago, district officials opted to extend the annual theme district wide, and added a celebration during a "Week of Respect" to align the focus in schools with the greater community, Miceli said.

"This year's theme is 'Start small, end big' . . . 'Be today's hero' was last year's theme," he said. "It's short catchy phrases and we use that all year round . . . and it just ties everyone together districtwide."

The unified theme, along with a concerted effort to connect with local groups, is "really the hallmark we were recognized for with the national award," he said.

"We include the constituent groups in our programs and activities. They often participate in many of the programs we run on a yearly basis," Miceli said, adding that the effort has proved successful in many ways. "When you have a caring and supportive community, you'll see better gains on academic achievement."

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