Disabled National Honor Society grad explains how a new school changed his life trajectory

Charlottesville, Virginia High School senior Julian Smith has had a lot of struggles in life, but with the persistence of his aunt and teachers at the Virginia school he graduated as a member of the National Honor Society in June – a feat some thought he’d never accomplish.

Smith was born with cerebral palsy, quadriplegia and several intellectual disabilities, which made for a difficult childhood growing up with his grandmother in Maryland. He struggled in school, in part because of his physical issues, but also because his teachers had little faith he could perform at the same level as his peers, The Daily Progress reports.

By the time Smith entered ninth grade, school officials said he had the cognitive abilities of a second- or third-grader, but his aunt Joanna Moore knew better. When Smith’s grandmother could no longer care for him, Moore took over and pushed the teen to live up to his potential.

“Up until that point, everyone just saw the wheelchair, saw the level he cognitively tested at and assumed he couldn’t do the work, he couldn’t be in the general population classes,” Moore told the news site. “I know his capabilities and I knew how smart he was, and I knew I had to fight.”

Moore said it wasn’t easy. The two studied relentlessly to help Smith get through the basics.

“At first it was catching up: addition, subtraction, multiplication – things no one had ever thought he could learn and so no one had bothered to teach him,” Moore said. “That was a lot of work, and I think both of us struggled.”

“High school was very hard at first, just getting used to how everything worked and the speed, especially for me, because I can’t think as fast as other people can,” Smith said. “It took memory, a lot of studying and a lot of concentration.”

It also took a different kind of school – with educators who believed in him – to help Smith flourish. When the two moved to Charlottesville for Moore to attend the University of Virginia, Smith’s experience at school drastically changed.

Unlike his teachers in Maryland, educators at Charlottesville High School shared Moore’s confidence Smith could excel in his studies – and he did.

“He loved it, I loved it, he felt so supported,” Moore said. “They had so many different mechanisms to get him to succeed. They believed in him.”

On June 14, Smith graduated with honors and with acceptance letters from three universities: Wright State University in Ohio, Edinboro University in Pennsylvania and Old Dominion University in Norfolk, which he ultimately chose to stay close to home, The Daily Progress reports.

Smith’s inspiring story is one example of the profound impact adults can have on students – a reality researchers at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture noted in “The Content of Their Character,” an analysis of character education in a wide variety of schools.

“As a rule, students want their teachers to think well of them and respect them, and they recognize teachers as role models as they do other adults, such as coaches, administrators, and parents,” according to the study.

Without Moore and educators at Charlottesville High School, Smith undoubtedly would not have been so successful.

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers other examples of students “Flourishing From the Margins” to highlight how parents and educators can achieve similar results.

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.”

Student born with no hands wins national handwriting contest

Chesapeake third grader Anaya Ellick had her sights set on winning the 2018 Zaner-Bloser National Handwriting Contest for cursive, and the hard work payed off in May when she took home the trophy.

What makes the feat all the more amazing is Ellick was born without hands, WVEC reports.

“Anaya is a role mode to everyone,” said Sarah Cannaday, Ellick’s teacher at Greenbriar Christian Academy. “Her classmates see her and see her doing the same tasks they are and they are often amazed that she can do just as well as they do, sometimes even better.”

Ellick was honored with the Zaner-Bloser 2018 Nicholas Maxim Special Award for Excellence in Penmanship during a May 9 presentation with her teacher, parents, classmates and administrators at her school. The Nicholas Maxim Award is for students with cognitive delay or intellectual, physical or developmental disabilities.

A team of occupational therapists review entries and pick a winner. The annual award is part of the national Zaner-Bloser handwriting contest, which has recognized the outstanding penmanship of K-8 students nationwide for more than three decades, according to the news site.

Ellick, a soft-spoken and humble 9-year-old, said her key to success is simply not giving up, despite some who doubted her ability. She won a similar handwriting contest for printing two years ago.

“People said I could not do it,” she said. “I would tell them I could do it.”

What is apparent in this story is Ellick’s total lack of victimhood, of not being defined by her disability. What it also shows is that the pendulum in some schools is swinging back from self-expression to self-discipline. This research can be found in The Death of Character, written by James Davidson Hunter. Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture are encouraged by this shift.

Ellick said it felt good to be recognized for her hard work.

“I felt happy, excited, and proud of myself,” she said.

Cannaday told WVEC Ellick’s personal drive is infectious, and not just for her classmates.

“She’s just really inspired me to work harder, because I look at her and she never says ‘I can’t do it,’” Cannaday said. “She never makes an excuse.”

Teachers with younger children will find this resource, from the UK’s The Jubilee Centre helpful for teaching students about virtues they should be acquiring at a young age.

‘I can’t imagine’: High school students interview Vietnam vets to document living history

Students at McDowell High School are getting in-depth lessons about the Vietnam War from North Carolina veterans who fought on the front lines.

Dozens of students spent a recent day interviewing numerous Vietnam War veterans from the community who served in different military units during the two decade long conflict that ended more than 40 years ago, WLOS reports.

“Vietnam is not a good place for me,” Frank, a veteran, told students. “I had an opportunity to go back and would not go back.”

The discussions were part of a broader school project to document the living history in the community, and students recorded their conversations with veterans, who brought in pictures, uniforms, and other memorabilia from their tours of duty.

Students learned how the war impacted soldiers, as well as how they were treated by their countrymen once they arrived home.

“We got eggs threw at us when we came back home. We were shunned by people in society, and we just came back and went back to work and never said anything about it for 40 years,” local combat vet Randy Hollifield said. “That’s the way we were. We never said anything.”

The lesson also included a walk to a veteran’s memorial at McDowell Senior Center, where students reflected on the sacrifices veterans made for their freedoms. Afterwards, students enjoyed lunch with veterans to share their thanks. Veterans also expressed gratitude students have an interest in a time in U.S. history that profoundly shaped their lives.

An ongoing controversy surrounding moral education is its potential threatens other academic subjects. Here the two efforts are combined effectively where the study of living history connects to the cost of personal sacrifice. Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture note “Moral thickness and thinness take form in several dimensions. The most prominent examples of ‘thickness’ drew upon sacred texts, traditions, and exemplars as their sources of moral authority and imagination” (The Content of Their Character, p. 279). Here living history connects personally with the students and their moral imagination.

Student Hayden Vaughn told WLOS the experience was eye-opening.

“Right now I’m stressing out about colleges for me to pick. I can’t even imagine knowing that I’m not going to go to college, I’m going to be sent off to war as soon as I graduate from high school,” he said. “I can’t imagine what that would feel like.”

Teachers and principals who want to emphasize the power of role models to help their students acquire strengthened moral and character formation can find learning activities and information at the UK’s The Jubilee Centre.  The learning activities can be found here.


University of California Los Angeles ROTC staffers ‘walk the walk’ when confronted with fiery crash on LA’s 405

Six staff members of University of California Los Angeles’ Reserve Officers Training Corps recently put on an impromptu demonstration of what it truly means to don a military uniform. And it’s already having a major impact on the program’s roughly 100 cadets.

The staffers – Maj. Tyrone Vargas, Lt. Col. Shannon Stambersky, Maj. Steve Kwon, Sgt. 1st Class Rhu Maggio, recruiting officer Romeo Miguel, and program manager Victoria Sanelli – were en route on Los Angeles’ infamous 405 freeway in early May when they came across an 18-wheeler toppled on the center divider and engulfed in flames, Stars and Stripes reports.

“It looked like it exploded,” Maggio, who was driving the crew back to the UCLA campus, told KTLA. “Dust went up, there was a giant fireball.”

The group’s mini-van was among the first on the scene, and the four uniformed ROTC instructors quickly went to work, drawing on their 15 years of Army experience, including deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. The two civilians with them, meanwhile, collected water and fire extinguishers from other motorists.

Maggio and Vargas pulled the big rig driver from the wreckage, but another person was trapped in a crumpled Honda pinned under the truck. “That’s when we all rushed to aid the trapped driver of the car,” Kwon said. “The fire was already burning and picking up flames.”

The soldiers worked to keep the flames at bay and dislodge a chunk of concrete in the way. Others dumped dirt to quell the blaze. Eventually, someone arrived with a battery-powered metal saw, and a soldier cut through the car to pull the driver free.

“Within 30 seconds, the entire vehicle was engulfed in flames,” Kwon said.

Much of the rescue was recorded by passing motorists and posted online, and the ROTC staffers’ efforts did not go unnoticed. “I truly believe they saved his life,” Jose Ahumada, with the California Highway Patrol, told KTLA.

“We train, we work, we’re ready for when anything happens to make decisions and then lead,” said Vargas. “Everybody just fell in line … We could not have stopped the fire. It was too big already. But we had enough time to save this individual.”

“We talk about our deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, but never in a million years would you ever expect to be called upon to do something in Los Angeles,” Stambersky said.

Vargas said he’s already heard from at least one cadet who watched the videos online.

“Good job,” the cadet said. “You walk the walk.” This is the crucial moment in moral development, where adult leaders demonstrate under pressure the fruit of good character. Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture quoted a teacher in their study, “You can talk all day long. If you don’t walk the walk, they’re not buying it and they [students] know the difference.”


FL teen prevents school shooting by reporting classmate issuing serious threats

Hernando High School senior Jamie Pankow isn’t the type of student that typically speaks up in class, but she was recently confronted with a situation she couldn’t ignore. “I’m hardly involved, I like to stay in the corners,” the Florida teen told WFTS. “But when it comes to something like this, I will say something.”

In late April, Pankow received a text from an old friend threatening harm against another student, and she knew what she had to do, even though the fallout would undoubtedly cause problems for her friend.

Youth culture tends to fly below the adult radar, which is why reporting a youth violation or potential violation to an adult in authority can be enormously difficult. Increasingly, students themselves are taking ownership of their school’s moral ecology. Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture observed, “The more positive construction is that a close community provides the watchful and loving attentiveness that allow the young people to thrive.” The more students agree with the adults in their community over the social and moral ecology the better students can be protected.

“He was saying something about a specific person that he wanted to make them bleed out,” Pankow said. “I thought about it really hard, it didn’t take too long, and I just went up and had my teacher call Deputy Pope so I could talk to him.”

Deputies came to the school and spoke with the 17-year-old student who made the threat, then arrested the boy after he confirmed he was planning to shoot people at Hernando High School.

“Even though it was a good thing to do, I still feel bad that I had to report him …,” Pankow told WFTS.

Hernando assistant principal Angela Miller said school officials work to create a culture that encourages students to speak up, and she’s grateful Pankow prevented what could have been a deadly situation.

“We’re really proud of her and what she’s done,” Miller said. “She showed a lot of courage.”

Pankow told the news site the experience also taught her an important lesson.

“If it’s serous,” she said, “you shouldn’t wait to act on it.”

“If it doesn’t feel right or look right, step up and tell an authority,” Miller added.

Teachers and principals working to strengthen moral and citizenship formation in their students will find information, strategies and teacher lesson plans at the UK’s The Jubilee Centre.


Foster Grandparents volunteers help boost reading skills for Tucson’s refugee students

When 10-year-old Tirhas Hagos moved to Tucson, Arizona from Ethiopia with her family two years ago, she didn’t know English.

Today, the fourth-grader receives high marks for literacy, including fluency and comprehension, thanks in large part to volunteers with the Senior Corps Foster Grandparents program.

Reading mastery is usually completed by the second grade. Social scientists have long recognized that few variables are more determinative of juvenile deliquesce later in life than the inability to read. By addressing this core academic skill within an identified at risk student population, these grandparents have made a major contribution to their community. Moreover, there is almost no substitute for the concrete care and example of a teacher or adult in a student’s life. Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture that study moral development observed, “The moral example of teachers and other adults unquestionably complemented the formal instruction students received, it was far more poignant to, and influential upon, the students themselves.”

The Foster Grandparents, a program funded by the federal Corporation for National and Community Service, partners volunteers over the age of 55 with teachers for 15 to 40 hours per week to help students struggling with reading, the Arizona Daily Star reports.

“I love my work,” said Susan Mason, a former executive assistant at Raytheon Missile Systems who now works three days per week as a literacy tutor at John B. Wright Elementary School. “I feel fantastic when they get it. They have trouble with comprehension, but when they understand what they are reading, it is the best feeling in the world.”

With word search puzzles, and playing games like Old Maid, Go Fish and Uno, Mason helps students build their vocabulary and rewards them with stickers to decorate their folders. Students work through books about UFOs, and firewalkers on the island of Bora Bora, and discuss the stories afterward to ensure they understand the words.

“These students are amazing,” Mason said. “Many speak three languages.”

Wright Principal Deanna Campos said the Foster Grandparents program is making a significant impact at the school, where about half of the pre-school through fifth grade students are refugees. Despite the language barrier faced by many of them – Wright’s refugee students represent 22 different cultures and languages – the school scored a B-plus on standardized tests.

“They go every day and read to an adult without anyone judging them,” Campos said. “The students are learning English, and when they read with Susan, they develop the fluency they need to be successful readers.”

Mason is among about 30 volunteers who work for the Senior Corps Foster Grandparents in the Tucson area, including at schools in the Flowing Wells, Tucson, Sunnyside and Marana districts. In Arizona, the program is sponsored by Northern Arizona University’s Civic Service Institute, and operates on a budget of about $750,000 a year.

The funding covers a small staff, as well as a small stipend and mileage, fingerprinting and background checks, for roughly 100 volunteers statewide.

Teachers and principals working to strengthen moral and citizenship formation in their students will find information, strategies and lesson plans at the UK’s The Jubilee Centre.



Immigrant custodian honored for positive influence at ID elementary school

Mustafa Ocanavic wears a lot of hats at Boise’s Taft Elementary School – custodian, counselor, cafeteria DJ, student safety monitor, mentor and friend.

But most people at the Idaho elementary simply refer to Ocanavic as the “heart” of Taft, where he’s worked as a custodian for the last 11 years.

Ocanavic was born in Bosnia but moved to the U.S. and gained American citizenship before landing his school job. Since that time, he’s worked to treat the students and staff at Taft as “family,” and his efforts have not gone unnoticed, KTVB reports.

“This person greets a lot of you every morning when you come in before school,” Principal Tim Lowe told students who recently gathered in the cafeteria for a special ceremony for “Mr. Mustafa.” “This is our chance to tell Mustafa thank you, so give him a big round of applause.”

Mustafa demonstrates the moral influence of an involved adult in the lives of students. Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture argue that case studies consistently show “the importance of the informal articulation of a moral culture through the example of teachers and other adults in the school community.” Mustafa’s involvement with the students consistently showed care, safety, and fun. It is a winning combination born from his past struggles.

“I come from a very troubled area of Bosnia, … and I found a new home and I am thankful for this,” Ocanavic told students. “And you guys my family.”

Lowe told the news site Ocanavic’s background as an immigrant with military experience has fit well with students and staff at Taft.

“We have an awful lot of families that struggle for a lot of reasons,” Lowe said. “The fact that he was an immigrant himself, he has a special understanding of a lot of our kids who come here from different countries and what it’s like to learn a new language and to be immersed in American culture.”

Ocanavic is also “a significant part of making sure Taft is a safe school, and these days it’s such an important issue,” Lowe said. “He has a military background that he applies every day here and he is really a stickler.”

Ocanavic said he goes out of his way to help students simply because it’s the right thing to do.

“I try to help those kids,” he said. “It’s not in my job description but I put myself in that position, those kids need help, talk.”

Ocanavic said he also enjoyes playing music for kids at lunch on Fridays, when he become his alter-ego, “DJ Moose.”

“The kids love it and we like to dance – first eat – then dance a little bit,” he said.

Teachers and principals working to strengthen moral and citizenship formation in their students can find information and strategies at the UK’s The Jubilee Centre. In The Jubilee Centre’s own words, the following illustrates how the Centre views its work.  “The Jubilee Centre is a pioneering interdisciplinary research centre on character, virtues and values in the interest of human flourishing.  The Centre is a leading informant on policy and practice through its extensive range of projects contributes to a renewal of character virtues in both individuals and society.”

OH schools host ‘Veteran Appreciation Game’ to honor military servicemen and women

Two Ohio communities of Miamisburg and Bellbrook came together this month to honor military veterans with a Veteran Appreciation Game between high school baseball teams.

Some of the finest schools in terms of advancing moral character are found in rural public schools. Miamisburg and Bellhook have a population of 20,000 and 11,000 respectively. Here in the rural Midwest, researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture found three spheres of moral obligation were common: immigration, religious responsibility, and military service. Here military service is appreciated. It’s a “clear expectation that people respect and honor those serving, those who had served, and those students thinking about joining.”

“It’s just a way for us to honor people what don’t normally get enough credit,” Miamisburg head coach Steve Kurtz told Dayton Daily News.

The April 21st outing kicked off at Miamisburg High School with players on both teams greeting veterans with a firm handshake, and a 21-gun salute. The opening ceremony also included taps, the national anthem, and a team of professional skydivers, who brought in the ball for the first pitch.

Gold star father Paul Zanowick, whose son Marine Cpl. Paul “Ricky” Zanowick II was killed in Afghanistan, did the honors.

“Not everywhere in the country is there so much care and concern for the military, but it is here,” Zanowick said.

His wife, Nanette, was also moved by the community support.

“I’m very touched and very proud of this community and what we do for veterans and they honored our son today to make it extra special,” she said.

Organizers sold commemorative t-shirts at the game and donated the profits to the Wounded Warrior Project, a Florida based nonprofit that works to help veterans who’ve served since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Nearly a half-million veterans suffer from physical injuries from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, including as many as 400,000 that suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“With the support of our community of donors and team members, we give a voice to those needs and empower our warriors to begin the journey of recovery,” according to the project’s website.

Kurtz told the Daily News he’s proud of his community’s support for veterans, and it was obvious at the recent game that it has a significant impact.

“It’s good to see that they smile and they know that we do care and are extremely grateful for what they’ve done for us,” he said.

Teachers and principals working to strengthen moral and citizenship formation in their students can find information and strategies at the UK’s The Jubilee Centre. In The Jubilee Centre’s own words, the following illustrates how the centre views its work.  “The Jubilee Centre is a pioneering interdisciplinary research centre on character, virtues and values in the interest of human flourishing.  The Centre is a leading informant on policy and practice through its extensive range of projects contributes to a renewal of character virtues in both individuals and society.”

Pilot who saved 148 passengers on Southwest 1380 a ‘true American hero’

Alfred Tumlinson, passenger on Southwest Airlines flight 1380, told the Associated Press that Southwest pilot Capt. Tammie Jo Shults has “nerves of steel.”

Another passenger, Diana McBride Self, describes the former U.S. Navy fighter pilot as “a true American Hero.”

On April 17, Shults’ decade of experience in the military undoubtedly factored into her calm composure when one of two engines on the Boeing 737 exploded in route from New York to Dallas. The explosion blew out one of the windows in the plane, spraying shrapnel inside as pressure pulled a passenger halfway out the window,  The Washington Post reports.

Shults’ character under fire was forged through years of military socialization. Her grit, calm, courage, and care were all evidenced in this unexpected crisis. This kind of moral character, researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture claim is strengthened through “a range of practices and routinized actions.” The crisis only reveals the embodied habits of action that amount to a hero’s character.“Southwest 1380, we’re single engine,” Shults told air traffic controllers as she guided the hobbled plane to Philadelphia International Airport for an emergency landing. “We have part of the aircraft missing, so we’re going to need to slow it down a bit.”

Shults requested medical assistance to meet the plane on the runway, where she made a relatively smooth, 190 mph landing, saving the lives of 148 people aboard. One passenger, 43-year-old mother of two, Jennifer Riordan, was the only fatality. Passengers managed to pull Riordan back into the plane when she was sucked out the window but were unable to revive her when she went into cardiac arrest, the Associated Press reports.

Despite the chaos in the cabin, numerous passengers credited Shults with maintaining control of the situation, both by calming passengers over the intercom and safely landing the massive jet.

“She was talking to us very calmly,” Tumlinson said. “’We’re descending, we’re not going down, we’re descending, just stay calm, brace yourselves.’”

“She was so cool when she brought that down into the Philadelphia airport,” Tumlinson said. “Everybody just was applauding. I’m just telling you they were just applauding. It was amazing that we made it to the ground.”

Passengers said Shults came back to the cabin after landing to personally check on them.

Those who know Shults weren’t particularly surprised by her heroics. Shults’ mother-in-law, Virginia Shults, described the mother of two as “a very calming person,” and a devout Christian.

Others recalled how she pursued a career in military aviation when women were discouraged, then thrived in the male-dominated industry where she eventually met her pilot husband, who also flies for Southwest.

“My brother says she’s the best pilot he knows,” said brother-in-law Gary Shults, who described Shults as a “formidable woman, as sharp as a tack. “She’s a very caring, giving person who takes care of lots of people.”

Shults declined to comment about the ordeal, other than a prepared, joint statement with first officer Darren Ellisor.

“As Captain and First Officer of the Crew of five who worked to serve our Customers aboard Flight 1380 yesterday, we all feel we were simply doing our jobs,” the statement read. “Our hearts are heavy. On behalf of the entire Crew, we appreciate the outpouring of support from the public and our coworkers as we all reflect on one family’s profound loss.”

Teachers and principals working to strengthen moral and citizenship formation in their students can find information and strategies at the UK’s The Jubilee Centre. In The Jubilee Centre’s own words, the following illustrates how the centre views its work.  “The Jubilee Centre is a pioneering interdisciplinary research centre on character, virtues and values in the interest of human flourishing.  The Centre is a leading informant on policy and practice through its extensive range of projects contributes to a renewal of character virtues in both individuals and society.”