Gratitude: The Gift of Being Seen

Maybe it was the four-hour ceremony in the suffocating heat, complete with black robes. Or maybe it was just the glorious impossibility of the announcement. Whatever the reason, it took a few beats for the news to sink in. But when it did, the crowd went crazy.


Morehouse College graduates and their families will not soon forget the generosity of Robert F. Smith, the billionaire commencement speaker who on May 19 pledged to repay all their student loans. And watching them express their thanks is almost as moving as the announcement itself.


Morehouse graduate Aaron Mitchom had calculated that it would take him 25 years to settle his $200,000 debt if he steadily paid half his monthly salary. He admitted he had trouble comprehending Smith’s words at first.


“Probably after a good 30 seconds, tears just rolled down from my eyes, and I’m like, ‘Wait, I’m debt free. I’m debt free!’” he recalled. “And I just stood on top of my chair and said, ‘Thank you God, I am debt free!’”


Overwhelming thankfulness was a common theme among the Morehouse graduates as they reflected on the gift they had been given.


“In that moment, we really realized that this thing we had dreaded for so long was no longer a part of our lives,” said Peter Wilborn, another Morehouse graduate. “I am beyond appreciative to Robert F. Smith.”


This attitude was shared by the school leadership. David Thomas, the president of Morehouse College, said he had no idea Smith was going to bestow such a gift. He said his reaction was “amazement, great gratitude to Mr. Smith, and joy for my students.”


Such appreciation and gratitude aren’t surprising, but they’re a moving reminder that communicating thankfulness is important. Syracuse Professor of Philosophy and Political Science Laurence Thomas, writing in The Hedgehog Review, says that “gratitude is the most basic sentiment of interpersonal interaction.”


Thomas makes the claim for several reasons. In his Hedgehog article, “Gratitude and Social Equality,” he writes that gratitude is “an affirmation that the other has correctly grasped the character of one’s moral situation;” that is, gratitude confirms to the giver that they indeed understood the recipient’s situation and their actions hit the mark. Gratitude also “acknowledges the moral parity of the other [the giver];” it puts the giver and the recipient on equal footing. This is why someone failing to express gratitude can seem arrogant.


Thomas also writes that “expressing gratitude is a willingness to keep a person’s moral record straight.” It confirms not only the equality of the giver and the recipient but also the truth of the objective narrative that one person was in need and another person acted on their behalf. And on the contrary, “in not expressing gratitude, the person is distorting the moral record at the other’s expense.”


Finally, gratitude acts like a mirror. We want to be good people, and hopefully, we strive to be so. But the gratitude of others confirms this. In Thomas’s words:

It is important to have evidence that our lives are true to our aspirations to be morally decent individuals. There is a very important respect in which we cannot have this evidence in the absence of how others react to our behavior. Barring a very perverse world, if we generally aim to be kind, say, then the responses of others should reflect just this fact about us. We need others to stand as moral mirrors concerning the nature of our motives; we need the moral affirmation that only others can provide, if we are to have a clear sense of the extent to which we are measuring up to our moral aspirations.

In other words, when we offer the gift of thanks, we affirm the moral aspirations of others. We assure them that they are seen, not invisible, and that their generosity and selflessness are true.


Teachers are in this unique position with students every day. Without a doubt, kids owe huge debts of gratitude to their instructors, their parents, and their communities. But they aren’t always great at remembering to express it, especially with summer vacation around the corner. Helping them learn to give the gift of gratitude—even by modeling gratitude and thereby affirming their own records of goodness—can reap rewards not just for you, but for the hundreds of people they’ll touch later in life, whether at a commencement or at a parent-teacher meeting.

Library reaches out with gratitude tree

The Healdsburg Regional Library is offering students a unique way to show their gratitude, and it couldn’t come at a more opportune time.

Wildfires that raged through Sonoma County and Napa Valley, Calif. in October left many in the area scrambling for safety as flames devoured their homes and belongings, but the library’s new Gratitude Tree is helping some to cope with the destruction, The Healdsburg Tribune reports.

Many Healdsburg residents were lucky enough to avoid the fires, Healdsburg librarian Charity Anderson said, but children in local schools haven’t escaped the reality that’s left friends and families in dire straits.

“The tree is exactly what it sounds like,” Anderson told the news site. “It invites people in the community to say what they’re grateful for and creates a beautiful art piece.”

“This is a good way for children to say what they’re grateful for, which is really important after the fires,” she said.

The idea for the Gratitude Tree started this summer, well before several fires scorched nearly 200,000 acres, consuming roughly 8,400 structures and killing dozens of people. Four children’s librarians from around the county came up with the low commitment idea to engage children for Gratitude Month in November using a tree, with paper leaves kids can use to write what they’re thankful for and hang from its branches.

At the Healdsburg library, officials unveiled the tree, which sits near the children’s area earlier this month, and it’s already filling in with leaves expressing thanks “for the first responders of Sonoma County,” “friends and family,” and other hopeful messages.

The Tribune notes that the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) emphasizes how wildfires often leave children with fear, worry, distress, and anxiety. The damage, both physical and emotional, stems from concerns about loved ones, separation from their families, and can lead to behavior problems, as well as problems sleeping or eating.

“Even in the most difficult situations, it is important to identify some positive aspect and to stay hopeful for the future,” the NCTSN advises. “A positive and optimistic outlook helps children see the good things in the world around them. This outlook can be one way to help them through even the most challenging times.”

Robert H. Frank also observed the intersection of gratitude and behavior in The Hedgehog Review, a publication of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.

Frank pointed to the “large body of research by academic psychologists who have studied how the emotion of gratitude affects people’s behavior.”

“The general finding is that gratitude makes people not only happier and healthier, but also more generous toward others,” he wrote.

In other words, gratitude is infectious, particularly in folks who acknowledge that their good fortune isn’t entirely their own making.

“Interesting enough, gratitude is often stronger in people who believe that they have been lucky rather than in those who believe that success is solely due to their own efforts,” Frank wrote. “Subjects who’d been asked to recall a good event and come up with external causes—many of whom mentioned luck explicitly, or cited factors like supportive spouses, thoughtful teachers, and financial aid—gave more than 25 percent larger donations than those who’d been asked to offer internal causes to explain the good event.”

The fires in California have undoubtedly left many in the Napa Valley region grateful to be alive, and many surely recognize that prevailing winds, an act of God, or some form of luck played a role.

The Healdsburg Gratitude Tree provides an opportunity for local students to reflect on that reality, and share their gratitude for avoiding the terrible fate that befell their neighbors.

Anderson told the Tribune that’s something worth celebrating, and she now plans to keep the Gratitude Tree up through the end of the year to continue to spread the message of hope.

“Maybe we’ll even put Christmas lights on it,” she said.

Lessons from the Jubilee Centre can help students practice the virtue of gratitude in the classroom.

Rocketship Academy will ‘touch your soul’ with gratitude

Teachers and administrators at Nashville’s Rocketship United Academy want students to understand that the school’s core values are more than slogans on a poster, so they’re bringing them to life through daily rituals that “create a consistent, predictable, and positive school experience.”

Across the public charter school network, Rocketship schools share four primary values—respect, persistence, empathy, and responsibility—and each school crafts a fifth, individualized value with the help of parents and staff.

“Our core values fit within our mission to prepare our students to thrive in school and beyond by equipping them with critical character skills. Many of our students come from high-poverty communities,” 3rd-grade STEM teacher Tatum Schultz wrote recently for Rocketship.

“Research shows that children living in these communities experience more ‘toxic stress’ than children living in middle or upper class neighborhoods. Toxic stress makes it difficult for children to manage their emotions, resolve conflicts, and respond to provocations,” Schultz wrote. “That is why we create a consistent, predictable, and positive school experience that helps our students develop the social-emotional skills they need to succeed in the classroom and beyond.”

That development occurs in morning “community meetings” with students three times a week to focus on a character education curriculum tailored to upper- and lower-grade students. The program uses five characters with different temperaments and personalities to illustrate important concepts in ways young students can duly relate.

The approach is “designed to give students depersonalized opportunities to practice the skills to recognize their emotions, demonstrate care for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations,” Schultz wrote.

In upper grades, students learn to track their behaviors, feelings, and progress with a mood journal.

At Schultz’s school, parents, administrators, and others selected gratitude for the school’s fifth core value, and educators have incorporated exercises that transformed the concept from a word into “a feeling that will touch your soul when you walk through the front doors,” Schultz wrote.

One example, developed by Rocketship’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support team, is Gratitude Grams that allow students to express thanks and appreciation and show kindness to others in their own individual way.

“Every day, for seven days, students were given a half sheet of colored paper with a different student’s name on it,” Schultz explained. “Their responsibility was to watch gratitude spread. They had to write one sentence thanking that student for something they had done or they could capture appreciation for them as a peer.

“At the end of seven days, the students would receive their own name and could read what seven other students appreciated about them.”

Rocketship demonstrates what James Davison Hunter and Ryan S. Olson call “intentional” schools in The Content of Their Character, a summary of field research in school culture and character formation from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

In “intentional” schools, according to editors Hunter and Olson:

The moral and missional ethos of a school was reinforced through a range of practices, or routinized actions—some formal, some informal—all oriented toward giving tangible expressions to the school’s values and beliefs. These included school mottoes, honor codes, school assemblies, mission statements, dress codes, statues, stories, student handbooks and contracts outlining behavioral expectations, and the like . . . All of it bears on the likelihood children will ‘catch’ character.

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers a model of virtue formation that can help educators ensure that the tenets of strong character are not only taught, but caught by students, as well as have a positive impact on students’ home life.

Social-emotional learning and achievement at Valor

Valor Collegiate Academies in Tennessee is crediting a sharp focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) for students’ astonishing academic success, which propelled its Tennessee schools to the top 1 percent of all middle schools in the state in its first year.

The success at Valor not only sheds light on the value of social-emotional learning, but also provides an opportunity to connect those lessons with broader discussions about good character and morals.

The Charter School Growth Fund, which invested $1.5 million for Valor’s first two schools launched in 2013, featured the schools in a recent “CSGF Portfolio Spotlight” on the organization’s website.

Todd Dickson, CEO of Valor Collegiate Academies, explained that the concept for the charter school was inspired by his work at a high-performing charter school in California that focused heavily on academics, and his twin brother Daren’s time helping children in social services with social and emotional skills.

“Students at Valor spend more time on their social and emotional growth than most traditional students. We first work on self-awareness and self-management to help them develop a strong sense of who they are. Then, we work on social awareness and social management to help them develop positive relationships with others. We believe that doing both things well helps develop healthy kids and communities,” Dickson said.

“We also hear from students that they feel safe here and that they have trusting relationships with peers and adults in the building. This has been beneficial in an academic setting; scholars are more willing to take academic risks. They listen to other people’s opinions and accept a diversity of perspectives.”

Valor schools use “The Valor Compass” to guide student growth and help them focus on four primary objectives: Sharp Minds, Noble Purpose, Big Hearts, and Aligned Actions.

“Mentor time, Expeditions, and academic courses all incorporate explicit and experiential experiences to help scholars develop sharp minds, big hearts, noble purpose, and aligned actions,” according to the Valor website. “Valor scholars develop character strengths such as kindness, determination, curiosity, gratitude, and integrity within a supportive community.”

Ryan Olson, director of the Institute for Advanced Studies on Culture at the University of Virginia, points out in “Character Education” that an SEL researcher argued that “the orientation of social-emotional learning toward action and skill” in SEL programs can complement the “concern for volition and intention often found in character and moral education programs.”

Adding curriculum resources on why students should do and be good—reasons outside oneself and for the benefit of others and a community—improves the stickiness of character formation, and getting students to go deeper by working on developing good sense when there is conflict between the social and emotional skills they’re learning, is an excellent next step, Olson argues.

The UK’s Jubilee Centre offers a worksheet to assist teachers to help students think about the kind of person and type of life they want to pursue.

Research: Children grow up “happier” if they are grateful

A growing body of research shows that teaching children true gratitude can have beneficial health effects, while also leading to stronger relationships with others.

While parents have long pressed their children to say “thank you” as a sign of good manners, researchers contend that when kids show gratitude and actually mean it, the practice can lower stress, battle depression, improve impulse control, and lead to a more optimistic and positive outlook, Business Insider reports.

Research by Sara Algoe, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina, explains one of the most significant keys to well-being is being able to acquire and maintain relationships. Gratitude is the glue that can bring people together as well as creating happiness from the inside out,” according to the news site.

“In her study, she calls it, ‘Find, Remind and Bind,’ citing the process of being sincere in thanks, and then getting a positive response in return, creates a stronger relationship bond with lasting side effects.”

Other research shows the benefits are both physical and mental, and include reduced depression, better impulse control for things like spending, eating, and drinking; a more optimistic and positive outlook; a stronger immune system; lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol; and lower blood pressure.

“. . . Researchers at the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities conducted a study focused solely on gratitude interventions in treating depression and found that practices such as keeping a gratitude journal, writing a letter of gratitude, counting blessings and gratitude visits all had a powerful effect, with journals being the most effective,” Business Insider reports.

The benefits of gratitude, however, rely on sincerity.

Researchers with UNC, Duke, and NC State pointed out that children as young as six years old know the difference between genuine gratitude, and simply saying “thank you.”

“Many of the children we talked to had a lovely phrase for telling the difference between the two,” the North Carolina psychologists wrote. “They’d say: ‘She said thank you, but she didn’t mean it.’ So even at that age they are getting it—but they lack the perspective, the experience of it.”

Business Insider offered several ways parents can help youngsters develop the habit of sincere gratitude to propel them toward a happy and healthy life.

The news site suggests parents and other adults model the behavior they want kids to display, with a focus on presenting an example of sincere gratitude. Adults can also talk with children about the concept of gratitude, and explain how developing the skill within themselves can positively impact health and happiness.

Children can also develop true gratitude when the adults in their lives encourage volunteer work or other activities that illustrate why they should be grateful, such as working in a soup kitchen or helping needy families.

The research outlined by Business Insider affirms the benefits of gratitude cited by Robert H. Frank in The Hedgehog Review, a publication of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.

Frank notes there is a “large body of research by academic psychologists who have studied how the emotion of gratitude affects people’s behavior.

“The general finding is that gratitude makes people not only happier and healthier but also more generous toward others,” he wrote in “Just Desserts: Why We Tend to Exaggerate Merit—and Pay for Doing So.”

Frank also pointed to evidence that people who believe gratitude is not entirely their own making are often more grateful, and more likely to show their appreciation.

“Subjects who’d been asked to recall a good event and come up with external causes—many of whom mentioned luck explicitly, or cited factors like supportive spouses, thoughtful teachers, and financial aid—gave more than 25 percent larger donations than those who’d been asked to offer internal causes to explain the good event,” Frank wrote.

Landmark Harvard study reveals six things that contribute to long, healthy lives

A Harvard Medical School study that tracked 800 people through their entire lives recently revealed six things that made the biggest impact on their happiness, health and longevity.

The study involves several types of participants, from Harvard graduates born around 1920 to blue collar, inner city adults and intellectually gifted women specifically. And while many of the findings seem like common sense, others were less obvious, Business Insider reports.

Smoking and excessive alcohol use showed to have the biggest impact on health, while exercise and and weight management played key roles in longevity and happiness. Heavy smokers generally died sooner than others, while those with a healthy weight who enjoyed regular exercise lived longer with a better quality of life.

Years of education also made a difference. The study found “the physical health of the 70-year-old inner city man was as poor as that of the Harvard men at 80. But remarkably, the health of the college-educated inner city men at 70 was as good as that of the Harvard men at 70,” according to “Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Study of Adult Development,” a book by George Vaillant, the lead author of the study for over three decades.

“This was in spite of the fact that their childhood social class, their tested IQ, their income, and the prestige of their colleges and jobs were markedly inferior to those of the Harvard men. Parity of education alone was enough to produce parity in physical health,” Vaillant wrote.

He found that having a happy childhood is important, as well.

“For both inner city men and the Harvard men the best predictor of a high income was not their parents’ social class but whether their mother had made them feel loved,” according to Vaillant. “Perhaps the best summary statement is, What goes right in childhood predicts the future far better than what goes wrong.”

Relationships, and the emotional intelligence to deal with others, showed to be other big predictors of happiness later in life.

“The lives of all three cohorts repeatedly demonstrated that it was social aptitude — sometimes called emotional intelligence — not intellectual brilliance or parental social class that leads to a well-adapted old age,” Vaillant wrote.

The final two elements predicting a long and happy life involve coping skills, and generativity.

Those in the study who used “maladaptive coping” – blaming others, being passive-aggressive, living in denial or fantasy – did not fare as well as those who used “mature methods” like altruism, sublimation, suppression and humor, Business Insider reports.

Generativity – giving back through service as a consultant, mentor, coach or other youth leader – also benefitted participants later in life.

“In all three study cohorts mastery of Generativity tripled the chances that the decade of the 70s would for these men and women be a time of joy and not of despair,” Vaillant wrote.

He summarized the overarching message from the study – the longest prospective study of its kind in the world – with a single sentence: “Whether we live to a vigorous old age lies not so much in our stars or our genes as in ourselves.”

The findings underscore the notion that personal character is perhaps the most significant determining factor for quality and longevity on earth, a realization that some schools are taking to heart.

Daniel Scoggin explained to CultureFeed why character development is critical to the Great Hearts charter school network he founded in Arizona and Texas:

As the ancient Athenian statesman Pericles described the virtues of a free democracy and its citizens as, “. . . knowing the secret of happiness to be freedom, and the secret of freedom a brave heart.”

In the spirit of Pericles we named our public charter organization Great Hearts. It is a reminder to us of our heritage of freedom. But it also is a reminder to us of what we want our students to have, and who we want our students to be, as we inspire our students to fulfill their calling and prepare for the adventure ahead.

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham offers a teacher handbook to help educators develop students’ character and improve their outlook on life. The handbook provides activities that encourage youngsters to “cultivate a sense of appreciation for the network of people from whom they receive benefits,” and “to reflect on the meaning of gratitude” outlined in an associated workbook.

Students take on kindness project to send a message on first day of school

South Shore Elementary School Principal Nicole Young wanted to set the tone for the new school year, so she crafted a schoolwide project to spread love and hope throughout the community.

The Regina Beach, Saskatchewan students were asked to bring a rock to school for the first day of class, then encouraged to decorate them with kind words, and encouragement. Afterwards, students stashed their creations under trees and along benches, on guardrails and in playgrounds throughout the community in hopes of inspiring others with kindness, Global News reports.

“We just thought we would start off the year with a kindness initiative,” Young said. “It’s nice to make it something simple that the kids can do – kindergarten to grade eight, they can be kind and it’s easy.”

The idea came from a local mother of two, Geneva Haukeness, who combined her love of art with her growing rock collection to start Regina Beach Rocks, a project on Facebook designed to offer something for those who both create and find the special stones.

“I would just draw on rocks and it helps to (relieve) stress from this chaotic life (and) it just helps me to relax and get away,” Haukeness said. “If you find a rock you can keep it, you can post to on the Facebook page, (or) you can re-hide it for someone else to find.

“If it makes you smile, that’s all I want,” she said.

South Shore students were beaming as they discussed their artwork with Global News.

“I chose golfing because I love golfing, and it just makes me happy,” one student said of his rock’s theme. “I also feel kind, and feel like spreading that kindness.”

“It makes up happy,” his classmate added.

The intentional focus on instilling kindness in students comports with research from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture that shows parents want their children to be good people.

“The overwhelming majority of American parents (96 percent) say ‘strong moral character’ is very important, if not essential to their child’s future,” according to the Institute’s “Culture of American Families” report.

The kindness rocks in Regina Beach are part of a broader movement to inspire and encourage through painted rocks and stones that was started by Cape Cod, Massachusetts empowerment coach Megan Murphy.

Murphy’s The Kindness Rocks Project offers an educational curriculum that includes a Skype session with the founder, as well as a video explaining how it all got started.

“We believe that the earlier that you begin building understanding, empathy and kindness in children the sooner the world will have understanding, empathetic, and kinder human beings that care for one another. This educational module can help build the foundation of early social-emotional learning for children,” according to the website.

“You will find the curriculum module, additional resources and family sheets to assist you in implementing the activities. Included in the curriculum packet are a list of vocabulary words, suggested books, photos to use as prompts, links to videos to reinforce the curriculum, additional resource links, and family engagement activity sheets.”

Botetourt County, Virginia students are literally reaping the fruits of their labor, and word is it’s delicious.

Last year, the area behind Central Academy Middle School in Fincastle, Virginia was a barren strip of grass, but this year students are picking tomatoes, cucumbers and other veggies on that land to supply the school salad bar. The project, which also includes a small fish pond, is a collaboration between students in Central Academy’s art and agriscience classes, who designed the layout, selected and planted the crops, and decorated the garden with painted rocks and other artwork.

“I’m learning plant science, taking care of animals, taking care of crops,” seventh-grader Dylan Matheny told WSLS. “It’s fun. I like working outside. It’s nice doing all this. It looks like it’s really gone together well. Plants are doing good.”

“It’s amazing,” classmate Kaela Riddle added. “Everybody’s working together also.”

Agriscience teacher Jennifer Hannah told the news site she partnered with the Mountain Castle Soil and Water Conservation District to secure a school improvement grant through the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to attract pollinators to the area with native plant species.

The goal, she said, is to help students learn the value of accomplishing a large multi-faceted project, while also providing sustainable gardening skills they can use at home.

“This has been a student-driven project from day one,” she said. “I hope they walk away with some skills where they can do some sustainable gardening for themselves but also with some great pride in the work that they’ve done. This is a huge project for them.”

The group, which shared its latest crop with WSLS, now wants to add a greenhouse at the school to continue the work year-round.

“Everyone said the veggies were delicious,” said WSLS anchor Jenna Zibton.

The sense of accomplishment students gain from the experience is an undoubtedly positive contribution to the “moral ecology” that profoundly shapes their character.

In “The Content of Their Character,” a summary of character education in a variety of schools published by the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture, researchers note:

When social institutions – whether the family, peer relationships, youth organizations, the internet, religious congregations, entertainment, or popular culture – cluster together, they form a larger ecosystem of powerful cultural influence.

The University of California Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine explores in more depth how all different kinds of cultural influences impact character, and how students, educators and others can make a difference.

Greater Good’s “science based insights for a meaningful life” includes articles on everything from “How Seeing Good in People Can Help Bridge Our Differences” to “How to Raise a Kid with a Conscience in the Digital Age.”

Other features on the site include a Happiness Calendar, Greater Good quiz, and articles about specific virtues like compassion, gratitude, mindfulness and others.

Catholic student launches charity for the homeless

Not long ago, Ashton Brown was struggling with his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, getting in trouble at school as his symptoms continued to get “worse and worse,” said Jacqui Brown, the 11-year-old’s mother.

But over the last 18 months, things have drastically improved since Ashton came across videos of homeless folks online that revealed the harsh realities of life on the streets, the Catholic Leader reports.

“Every time I watched a video it was just really sad and I started to cry a little bit,” Ashton told the news site. “I just went up to mum and said, ‘mum, I want to help people around the world that don’t have a home.’”

Brown helped her son organize a car wash fundraiser to purchase supplies for the homeless in their hometown of Goodna, Australia, and the determined sixth-grader raised $310. Ashton then built on that success to raise thousands more by his 11th birthday in May, using the money to buy sleeping bags, blankets, toiletries, coffee and other supplies. In the months since, Ashton has combined the supplies with collected donations and distributed the goods to about 150 “rough sleepers” who attend weekly Street Feed events in the area, according to news site.

“We usually get at least four garbage bags of donations a week,” he said. “We fill the car every week.”

The Browns are now launching a charity called Homeless Helpers and already have plans in the works to eventually buy a caravan to expand their outreach.

“It’s going to be called Homeless Helpers Happy Place,” Ashton said.

“One side is going to be shelving, and that’ll have food, coffee, first aid and toiletries, and the other side we’ll give free hair cuts and flu shots,” his mother said. “I just wanted to show him that I believe in you and if you want to do it, let’s do it.”

Ashton also changed schools to St. Francis Zavier Primary School, Brown said, which has also been “a savior.”

“He’s got a new focus, the happy school and we’re away,” she said.

St. Francis Principal Veronica Lawson told the Catholic Leader she had no idea about Ashton’s charity work, but since she found out the school launched a fundraising event to support Homeless Helpers.

“I think he keeps his light under a bushel,” Lawson said. “I’m on bus duty and every afternoon and every day he tells me how his day has gone, but never once has he said, ‘I do this really important work,’ or ‘I do this for other people.’”

Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture note the strong emphasis Catholic schools put on community service in “The Content of Their Character,” a summary of research into character formation in a wide variety of different schools.

Political scientist David Campbell found “that private school students were more likely to engage in community service than their public school counterparts and that the Catholic schools primarily drove the effects.”

Jon Davison, with the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, offers further insight into “characteristics and complexities of charitable giving” and the motivations behind it.

“It is evident that without clarity of understanding the reasons why people give to particular charitable causes, it is almost impossible to understand how to encourage children, young people and adults to engage in charitable giving,” according to the report.

Ohio student travels to France to eulogize local WWII veteran at Normandy American Cemetery

When Springfield High School student Joshua Fox was selected to pay tribute to a soldier who died in the historic World War II D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, he didn’t have to search far to find a local hero.

The Ohio senior worked with the Normandy: Sacrifice For Freedom project through the Albert H. Small Student & Teacher Institute to honor Lucas County resident Private Jack William Runkel, a paratrooper with the U.S. Army’s 101 Airborne unit who died in action during the 1944 invasion, WTVG reports.

“Something about Private Runkel just spoke to me, that he was young kind of reminded me of how they were young men, most of them, who gave their life during this campaign,” Fox said.

The teen researched Runkel’s history and family, then traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend lectures and activities by World War II historians. Fox and his history teacher, Andrew Screptock, were among 15 teacher-student teams to participate in the Sacrifice for Freedom project, which culminated with students reading eulogies about the soldiers at their gravesites in France’s Normandy American Cemetery.

“That five minutes,” Fox said of the eulogy, “I can’t even explain it.”

“To know that I was possibly the first to memorialize him and honor him in that way was powerful to say the least,” he said. “We could all be speaking German right now if it wasn’t for these heroes. And it’s just something we all need to remember because of how important it was and what they gave up for us.”

“You know, it’s authentic,” Screptock added. “We got to get our hands dirty with history. So seeing Josh participate in that was especially gratifying.”

Researchers with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture recently analyzed character education in a wide variety of schools and published the findings in “The Content of Their Character.”

The research shows many schools, particularly rural schools, center character formation on three spheres of moral obligation: an appreciation of immigration, religious responsibility, and military service.

In rural schools, for example, students are not pressured to join the military, but rather “there was simply a clear expectation that people respect and honor those serving, those who had served, and those students thinking about joining.”

Fox’s memorial to Runkel is another prime example of how the expectation translates into something students and teachers can be proud of. The Sacrifice for Freedom project also creates role models, both in military heroes who gave their lives for freedom and students like Fox who step up to ensure their sacrifices are not forgotten.

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers lessons on developing role models that explains “the positive effect that role models can have in your professional lives.”

“Inspiration can come from anywhere, but some people in our lives make a lasting contribution towards creating a better world for us and others,” according to the unit Character in the Professions: Law “These people may have inspired others through their various achievements but also their attitude and virtues.”