Wichita schools creates peer group for male minority students where ‘it’s cool be smart’

The Wichita, Kansas school district is working to give its young male minority students a strong BAASE to set them up for success in college and life.

BAASE – an acronym for Better Academics and Social Excellence – is a new program aimed at rewarding black and Latino boys in the city’s 16 middle schools who are thriving in class and encouraging them to pursue bigger things, The Wichita Eagle reports.

More than 500 seventh- and eighth-graders – all with a GPA of 3.2 or better, excellent attendance and good behavior last school year – recently gathered at the district’s headquarters to eat pizza and watch an inspirational video, “Dare to Dream,” featuring icons like Martin Luther King Jr., Michael Jordan, Misty Copeland, and others, according to the news site.

“They’ve already demonstrated that they have the ability to go to college,” said William Polite, Wichita’s director of diversity. “Our goal is to bring them all together to create a positive peer group where it’s cool to be smart and it’s fun to be smart.”

The district’s executive director of secondary schools, Robert Garner, addressed the boys at the event, where he explained that a high school diploma is “the bare minimum” and encouraged students to enroll in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses.

“You are the kinds of students that we believe can be leaders,” he said. “You’re the ones that are going to make a difference in the world.”

“Our goal is that each of you will graduate and go further,” Garner said. “We’re trying to build you up – build your resume to the level where, when you graduate from high school, you will walk out the door and be ready for that college opportunity.”

The first meeting focused mostly on setting goals. The invited students also signed their name to a pledge “to enter into a brotherhood of a higher level by holding ourselves and each other accountable to the highest standard of achievement both academically and socially.”

Future meetings will include guest speakers, practice interviews, college visits and other activities focused on building the character.

“Polite said advisers at each middle school will use a free curriculum called ‘Believing the College Dream’ to guide conversations about the importance of education,” the Eagle reports. “They’ll also practice social and emotional skills and talk about important character traits such as honesty, persistence and self control.”

The Wichita district’s focus on helping students develop social emotional intelligence underscores the reality that schools are formative institutions, with a mission that extends far beyond academics.

James Davison Hunter and Ryan S. Olson, with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, write in “The Content of Their Character”:

Human beings, after all are not merely cerebral, but sentient; not merely rational, but feeling – and beyond the intellectual and emotional, they are social and normative beings, too.

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers resources to develop educators develop emotional intelligence and positive character virtues in students. By connecting emotions, choices, and actions, the Jubilee Centre materials push students beyond skills and toward the virtue of compassion for others.

Students leaders blend lessons from military, sports to serve a greater purpose

Two student athletes at George Washington University are sharing how the lessons they’ve learned through years of military training and team sports have prepared them to excel as leaders.

Senior Riley Tejcek, an infielder on the George Washington University softball team, participated in the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Course over the last two summers, and sophomore swimmer and diver Nick Tomczyk is simultaneously training for the Naval Reserves.

And while the physical aspects of the military programs have undoubtedly helped to keep the students in top form, both contend it’s the military’s leadership mentality of serving a higher purpose that has benefitted them the most, the GW Hatchet reports.

“It’s all about the team unit, it’s not about you, it’s about the people next to you,” Tejcek said. “That’s the important thing, is it’s not about you.”

The students discussed their grueling schedules, from early morning workouts before a day full of classes to rigorous military training sessions and Division I championships.

“Once I’m done with one thing, I focus on the next thing and that’s how I get through it,” said Tomcyzk, a squad leader in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Crops. “I take it one step at a time each day.”

Tomcyzk said he’s using lessons learned in the water to guide his seven-person platoon.

“Being a part of a team definitely helps because I’m learning from the captains of the swim and dive team how they’re being leaders,” he said. “I can take stuff off of them and transfer it to the unit to be a leader.”

Tejcek said the selfless approach to team work in the Marine Corps mirrored her approach as captain of the softball team, both providing the “rewarding experience” of serving something bigger then herself.

“Those are the people that are going to impact me the rest of my life,” she said. “Above all else is the relationships with people I’ve met along the way that keeps me going and keeps me motivated, absolutely.”

Researchers at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture discussed the “thick” and “dense” moral culture common in the military and team sports in “The Content of Their Character,” a summary of character education programs in a variety of U.S. high schools.

Through numerous interviews and observations, researchers noted “the source and setting for moral and civic education matter – that the ‘thickness’ of cultural endowments and the ‘density’ of moral community within which those endowments find expression are significant in the formation of personal and public virtue in children.”

The career site The Balance Careers offers an outline of the United States Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Course for students and school counselors exploring career options. The program involves a very dense moral community through weeks-long summer training sessions, while offering tax-free monthly stipends, tuition assistance and training pay.

Upon graduating from college, students are commissioned as officers in the U.S. Marines and go on to attend six months of basic training.

DC schools search for new chancellor ‘with a deep moral compass’

District of Columbia Public Schools is hosting public forums as part of its second search for a new chancellor in as many years, and it’s clear many are looking to avoid ethical issues that plagued prior administrations.

DCPS’ most recent chancellor, Antwan Wilson, resigned in February for bypassing the district’s admissions lottery process to transfer his daughter to a limited enrollment high school – the same exact issue that led to the departure of the previous chancellor, Kaya Henderson, WAMU reports.

The situation wasn’t lost on those who participated in the public forums in August and September, when many spoke of the importance of selecting a new leader with strong character.

“Given the history we have in the city, I think we need a chancellor with a deep moral compass,” Anacostia High School volunteer Aaron Jenkins told WAMU. “(We need) someone that has an understanding of not only the job they have to do as chancellor but also a deeper awareness of right and wrong.”

Emily Mechner, a mother of three students at Oyster Adams Bilingual School, echoed Jenkins’ sentiments.

“A lot of people at our table were really interested in our chancellor having a real strong ethical center, to have a real clear moral sense of what is right and what’s important for the schools and the community,” Mechner said.

Participants also identified a performance gap between schools in the district, the accessibility of central office officials, and a need for more family engagement as top priorities. D.C. Interim Deputy Mayor for Education Ahnna Smith and her staff documented the public forums, and she said “the mayor and committee members would receive a synthesized report of all the public forums”.

The city will consider the feedback, as well as comments submitted online, as committee members wade through applicants for a new chancellor.

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, wrote about how a person’s character is largely the product of a broader moral culture that includes school, home life, media, relationships and countless other factors.

“This moral culture not only gives us our ethical understanding, it also tells us who we are,” Hunter wrote in “The Tragedy of Moral Education in America” “It provides us with an understanding of what it means to be human and what kind of human we should ideally be.”

Great Hearts Academies offers a video about what the non-profit public charter school network is doing to develop future leaders schools and communities can depend on, with the character and integrity to serve others honorably.

In the video “Building Goodness by Building Character” students and school officials explain why Great Hearts is focused strongly on character formation, and why it’s important for the future.

“It’s not just about producing brilliant kids,” Great Hearts co-founder Daniel Scoggin said, “but brilliant kids who have the character to deploy that talent for a good that’s greater than themselves.”

Detroit school district partners with private funder to create ‘cradle-to-career’ learning center

The Detroit Public Schools Community District’s newest school will feature a first-of-its-kind “cradle to career” approach to education through a partnership with the University of Michigan and a private donor.

School board members in September approved a new school on the campus of Marygrove College that will feature an early childhood center funded by the Kresge Foundation, a K-12 school staffed by the school district, and a medical school-style residency program for educators from the University of Michigan, the Detroit Free Press reports.

“I’m really excited that we’re doing something innovative at this new school,” said board member Sonya Mays, who also commended Superintendent Nikolai Vitti for the project “because I know it was not an easy get.”

District spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson told the news site “if this goes the way that it has been planned … what I can say is that it will be a state-of-the-art program and partnership and it will be one of a kind nationwide.”

Board members did not discuss details, but materials distributed at the meeting state “the school’s focus will be social justice and leadership through engineering.”

“The school will (strive) to serve neighborhood students while offering seats to students outside of the area,” the materials read.

“Once we get input from the community, then we’ll be able to move forward in understanding how many students will be enrolled, and the resources we’ll need at that point,” Wilson told the Free Press.

Marygrove College largely abandoned its northwest Detroit campus after steep enrollment declines in recent years, despite the Kresge Foundation’s support of both the college and the community. The new partnership allows DPSCD to lease the campus for no more than $1 a year, which opens up a unique opportunity to serve students from birth through to adulthood.

“As the District continues to improve enrollment, innovative and unique schools/programs are necessary to recruit and retain students and families,” according to the board materials. “This innovative school offers Detroit families … a traditional public school experience while addressing its human capital needs.”

Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture noted the importance of a school’s structure and connection to the community in “The Content of Their Character,” a summary of character education in a wide variety of American high schools.

“How a school is organized, the course structure and classroom practices, the relationship between the school and outside civic institutions – all these matter in the moral and civic formation of the child,” wrote James Davison Hunter, editor and Institute founder.

Much of the new school’s focus will undoubtedly center on preparing students for college, and there’s a lot students and teachers can do to increase success beyond high school.

Education Corner offers a plethora of resources and advice on what students in high school today can do to prepare themselves for the challenges of higher education, from developing good study habits to money management, admissions and financial aid tips, and timelines for the application process.

AL schools connect students with heroes from history to develop character and civic responsibility

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 LearningtoGive.org. “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.”


Olympic gold medalist Alex Rigsby talks character with students in Classroom Champions program

Alex Rigsby, gold-medalist on the U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey team, returned from the Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea to a drastically different environment.

The 26-year-old spent her second year in the Classroom Champions program working as a mentor in four elementary classrooms, two in Alexandria, Virginia and two in Portland, Oregon, The 74 Million reports.

Rigsby discussed how the experience has made an impression on both her and the students, and what she hopes to accomplish through the mentorship.

The best part of the experience, she said, is “seeing the impact it has on children.

“It is so fun interacting with them and seeing the progress they are making throughout the year and the different challenges that they accept and meet from what I give them each month,” Rigsby told The 74.

“I was lucky to be able to see two classrooms of mine last year,” she added. “It was just so awesome to see all the kids and how excited they were, and see them look to me as a friend and get excited to work on their goals and perseverance and all the different types of things we talk about.”

Rigsby explained how sports or students’ other passions can help students develop habits and virtues for success at school and later in life.

“I think it is about setting goals for themselves. That is one of the biggest things we preach to them: It is about goal setting and chasing your dreams,” Rigsby said. “Sports are just such a great thing for any kid to have, and if they take it to a high level or not, they are going to be able to learn some lessons from it, and if they can take anything they learn and move forward with it, it is going to help them in their life.”

Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia 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.

James Davison Hunter, sociologist and Institute founder, wrote 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 takes a deeper look at the character virtues that drive student success and the role character education can play in helping students succeed in the report “Flourishing From the Margins.”

The project reviewed data on 3,250 students from a variety of backgrounds to “illuminate the vital practical work that tutors, youth workers, and community leaders do every day in supporting and guiding marginalised young people to build character and become moral, engaged, intelligent members of an increasingly complex and challenging society.”

“Flourishing From the Margins” also offers a suite of teaching resources for educators interested in forming character in students, as well as recommendations for schools working to develop a positive culture that values strong character and virtues.

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.

Nonprofit Little Kids Rock helps schools engage students through music they love

In early July, more than 500 educators from across the country descended on Colorado State University for the sixth annual Modern Band Summit, an event aimed at helping schools modernize music classes to get more students involved in music education.

The meeting was organized by the New Jersey nonprofit Little Kids Rock, in partnership with the Bohemian Foundation, to highlight the organization’s free services and music supplies to help schools make music accessible for all students, the Coloradoan reports.

“Little Kids Rock offers free professional development seminars to public school teachers across the country, instrument donations, lessons, curricula and other resources,” according to the news site. “At the workshops, educators learn how to teach modern band programs at their schools.”

Fort Collins 18-year-old Mariana Henke started in the program as a seventh grade student at Polaris Expeditionary Learning School, and it sparked a passion that compelled her to learn to play guitar, sing and write.

“That’s when I fell in love with music,” she said.

Henke used the music skills she learned to produce her own original album for her senior project, and to entertain the hundreds of educators at the July Summit, which featured more than 30 hands-on workshops on guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals and music technology, according to the news site.

Polaris music teacher Jasmine Faulkner said Henke is the perfect example of the type of students the program aims to reach – those who may not be interested in orchestra or choir, and have no prior experience with instruments.

Faulkner said the program transformed her music class by focusing on indie, metal, blues, hip hop or other music students like, which is inspiring students like Hinke to write their own material.

“That’s the highest level of learning,” she said, “when students are creating.”

And for the 2018 Polaris graduate, it’s just the beginning.

“Henke … will study music at California State University Monterey Bay this coming school year,” the Coloradoan reports. “She wants to pursue a career in music.”

That path, cleared by Little Kids Rock, points to the strong influence adult role models have on students, particularly when those role models share a similar passion.

Researchers with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia reflected on that reality in “The Content of Their Character,” a summary of character formation efforts in a wide variety of U.S. schools.

“The moral example of teachers unquestionably complemented the formal instruction students received, but arguably, it was far more poignant to, and influential upon, the students themselves,” researchers wrote.

More information about Little Kids Rock is available on the Bohemian Foundation website, or at LittleKidsRock.org.

To date, the organization has reached more than 650,000 students in over 270 school districts across 45 states.

In Fort Collins alone, the program has served more than 7,000 children and donated more than 1,500 instruments with the support of the Bohemian Foundation.

Hundreds of MN educators attend state-sponsored ‘restorative practices training’

Hundreds of educators across Minnesota received “Restorative Practices Training” through the state’s Department of Education this summer as part of a shift toward a more thoughtful discipline approach in schools.

About 650 educators in total – teachers, social workers, counselors and administrators – attended classes over two weeks in June to learn how to respond to conflicts in schools and better help students work through their problems, KSTP reports.

Nancy Riestenberg, a restorative practices specialist with the Minnesota Department of Education, contends “adults are always teaching kids social skills and so we should be intentional about how we do that.”

In school districts across the country, officials are using “restorative justice” practices as the primary tool for reducing a disproportionately high percentage of minority students who are suspended from school – an effort that was strongly supported by the Obama administration.

In Minnesota, trainings were held in Cloquet, Bemidji and Crystal for the first time in June, though districts including St. Paul and others have already implemented restorative justice programs with mixed success, however.

Hopkins West Junior High Assistant Principal Matthew Johnson likened the “restorative practices” training to “learning a new way of building relationships with students.”

He contends an emphasis on dialogue and making things right with the restorative approach gives students a foundation to address problems throughout their lives.

“It gives students the opportunity to have voice within a circle, to hear each other. So when those tough times come, when conflict does happen, they’ll have the skills,” he said. “They’ll have learned the skills to listen and then to speak their truth.”

Perpich Arts High School Assistant Principal Christopheraaron Deanes said restorative practices encourage kids “to hear your heart instead of hearing your words.”

“Because words don’t always give you the emotion,” Deanes said.

Riestenberg told KSTP Minnesota’s restorative practices are based on tribal traditions that date back generations, blended with methods “restorative justice” councils use to improve inmate behavior in Carlton County prisons.

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture, notes in “The Tragedy of Moral Education in America”:

The components of morality are expressed in a community’s institutions, including its moral rules … When it functions well, our moral culture binds us, compels us, in ways of which we are not fully aware.

The Centre for Justice & Reconciliation offers a six part tutorial about restorative justice that covers the values, programs, and conceptual issues involved as well as the benefits and implementation of the approach.

“Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior,” according to the Centre, a program of Prison Fellowship International. “It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders. This can lead to transformation of people, relationships and communities.”

‘Culture coordinator’ connects students, family, school and community to build ‘positive environment’

Esek Hopkins Middle School in Providence, Rhode Island “culture coordinator” Carina Monge is working to connect with students, parents, and local officials to bring her Rhode Island school community closer together.

She’s one of seven culture coordinators hired by the district to help address chronically low academic performance. At Esek Hopkins and other district schools, the culture coordinators are inspiring students to re-engage with their studies, and to work through life’s struggles, the Providence Journal reports.

Culture coordinator Monge, who is bilingual, spends much of her days building relationships – with students, faculty and families – in a variety of different ways, from connecting with Spanish-speaking parents who may be leery of officials, to working with students with excessive absences, local police, and teens dealing with trauma.

Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture strongly support this emphasis on culture. A students learning environment also includes the student’s mental state, home life, and after school community. James Hunter writes, “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 Tragedy of Moral Education in America, p. 6). Shaping this culture positively is crucial.

Monge launched “power lunches” and hands out Hula-Hoops to get kids moving, and invites officials like Providence police officer Taylor Britto in to chat with students and offer encouragement.

“When I first got here, school lunch was kind of sad,” Britto told the news site. “Now the kids are smiling. They’re engaged.”

“She has created such a positive environment,” officer Britto said.

Monge helped students launch an LGTBQ club and find an advisor, connected local musicians with the school band, brought in processionals from the community to speak at Career Day, and linked students with summer jobs programs. She also offers her office as a “quiet room” reprieve for overwhelmed students, and works with others to settle disputes and determine discipline.

“She exudes positivity,” music teacher Marilyn Russo told the Journal. “I see kids coming out of their shells.”

“By the time they leave her office, they’re smiling,” Britto said. “To have someone who makes them feel safe … it’s so important.”

Students seem to agree, with one girl telling the Journal her life has changed since she joined the LGTBQ club.

“It made me feel more comfortable,” she said. “Miss Russo and (Youth) Pride have given me a confidence I never had before.”

It would be great if every school had a person like Carina Monge on staff to help students face exceptional challenges and adversity in their lives.  Many schools do not have such a staff member.  However, teachers can help students flourish despite their circumstances by getting help from the UK’s The Jubilee Centre by looking at the Centre resource for teachers about Flourishing From the Margins.