ND community rallies around student diagnosed with cancer

North Dakota’s Dickenson High School volleyball team has a message for senior setter Lauren Jorda: “Her battle is our battle” and “God is within her, she will not fail.”

Those words of encouragement were printed on teal t-shirts and presented to Jorda just a week after she revealed to her teammates that she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and that’s just one of many ways the community has stepped in to help, The Dickinson Press reports.

“It was pretty tough, but we all just told her that we were going to be there for her no matter,” junior Taylor Nelson told the news site. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy for her, so we were just there for her support. It took us all by surprise, but we knew we were going to help her through it.”

In the week between Jorda’s announcement and the Sept. 13 game against the Mandan Braves, her teammates created a fundraiser to sell the shirts online, raising thousands to help with medical expenses. Jorda was brought to tears when she learned about the effort in the locker room, then took to court to find the Braves also wearing the shirts. Nearly the entire student section also wore teal, the color representing ovarian cancer, the Press reports.

“It’s just been cool to see the t-shirts in places you wouldn’t even think of,” senior Madi Eckelberg said. “There’s just been a lot of support.”

In the weeks since, Jorda’s team has raised thousands through shirt sales, while others launched different fundraisers. The Dickinson High School National Honor Society held a bake sale, and classmate Addie Kuehl designed and sold bracelets with Psalm 46:5 to help pay for treatment and expenses.

Dickinson State University’s Nursing Student Association filled a gift basket with gift cards, gas cards and other goodies. Students at other area schools also bought shirts and donated cash before volleyball games.

Jorda has undergone seven surgeries so far to remove the cancer, but the future remains unknown, KXMD reports.

“Grateful is the one word I can come up with because it’s really making a difference in her fight,” Jorda’s father, Tom Jorda, told the Press. “We are basically quiet people, but for this to happen to this level and extent – teams throughout the state reaching out to her, people we don’t even know are reaching out to her because of sportsmanship. You can’t explain it; the nature of people and community is phenomenal.”

No words can express her gratitude, Jorda said.

“There’s really no words to put in to how it really feels,” she said. “I know Dickinson is a tight-knit community; we’re not a big, huge town. So everyone kind of knows everyone and when something happens like this, we just band together. It’s unreal.”

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, points to a community’s moral traditions as a critical element in or how people take action to help others.

Hunter wrote in “The Tragedy of Moral Education”:

What empathy we feel may help us understand someone else’s needs, and even feel the desire to help that person. But without embedded habits and moral traditions, empathy does not tell us what to do, nor when, nor how.

The nonprofit Action for Happiness offers resources for parents and educators to help youngsters develop traditions and habits centered on helping others, through kindness projects, volunteer work, activism and other means.

“Action for Happiness is a movement of people committed to building a happier and more caring society,” according to the website. “Members of the movement make a simple pledge: to try to create more happiness in the world around them. We provide ideas and resources to enable people to take action at home, at work or in their community.”

Students who engage in extra-curricular activities may benefit more than they realize

College surveys show students who engage in extra-curricular activities do better in class, have more friends, and generally enjoy their experience more than those who stick to the sidelines.

The Signal, the University of Houston-Clear Lake’s student newspaper, recently highlighted some of the benefits students can expect if they opt to take part in the school’s more than 90 different clubs and organizations.

“For example, a 2010 Purdue University study on the relationship between undergraduate student activity and academic performance reported that ‘participation in student organizations can lead to the development of social and leadership skills, higher retention rates, heighted self-confidence, and improved satisfaction with college, the ability to see course curriculum as more relevant, and further success after college,’” according to site.

“The Purdue study also indicated that students involved on campus showed a grade point average that was significantly higher than the general student population.”

The Signal pointed to other benefits, as well, including practice building time management, project management, communication and team building skills.

“There are many other ways, in addition to joining a student organization, for students to get involved on campus,” the site reports. “Students can join an intramural sports league, attend campus events or participate in student government. Students can also get a job on campus, such as becoming a tutor, teaching assistant or research assistant, and joining the school newspaper.”

Internships and volunteer work are other avenues students can pursue to engage in the school community.

“All of these options are great resume builders,” according to The Signal. “Becoming involved on campus can allow students to learn soft skills, network and feel more connected.”

Students’ extra-curricular involvement also shapes their character, because “individuals are social creatures inextricably embedded in their communities,” according to James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

In his book “The Death of Character,” Davison wrote:

Experience was always a precursor to the possession of character and practical wisdom, for it schools the individual in the range of circumstances within which the virtues would find expression.

The Jesuit Schools Network also recognizes the benefits of extra-curricular activities, and its “Profile of the Graduate” provides a more in-depth look at the character virtues the school system aims to instill in graduating students.

And while experiences outside of the classroom undoubtedly strengthens many of the virtues expected of Jesuit graduates, it’s particularly important to ensuring they’re “open to growth.”

“The Jesuit high school student at the time of graduation has matured as a person – emotionally, intellectually, physically, socially and religiously – to a level that reflects some intentional responsibility for one’s own growth,” according to the profile.

“The graduate is beginning to reach out in his or her development, seeking opportunities to stretch one’s mind, imagination, feelings, and religious consciousness.”


Student’s senior project connects personal story of hope with others struggling to overcome

Journey Smith’s Grade 12 project at British Columbia Canada’s Whistler Waldorf School is making a big impact, both on those involved in “Hope The Documentary,” and the 18-year-old herself.

Smith told Canada’s Pique News Magazine what started as a year-long thesis on the role of hope evolved into something much more, largely because her own story of overcoming adversity connected with others she knows who have struggled in life.

“In my 18 years of life, I have faced a lot of adversity. I was actually diagnosed with a condition called hydrocephalus, which is essentially fluid on the brain. I suffered a stroke at birth,” Smith said, adding that she’s underwent numerous surgeries related to the condition in the years since.

“This project was super important to find other people who have faced different types of adversity and how, through their journey, they’d overcome it,” she said.

Smith teamed with family friend and commercial videographer Andi Wardrop, who credited Smith’s intimate connection with those she interviewed for bringing the film to life.

“Journey’s story, first of all; and probably most of all, is why people get so attached to this film. The few times that (I) had met Journey, it seemed like she didn’t have a disability, which is interesting now that I know her so well,” Wardrop said. “Watching her start to give herself permission to be exactly who she is through talking to these other people, as soon as we started the film I knew it was going to be extremely powerful. It was definitely Journey’s story that I got attached to.”

“Hope The Documentary” features a local photographer who overcame breast cancer, a man who launched a mountain-bike charity following the death of his young son to cancer, a widower grieving through the unexpected death of her husband, and Smith’s personal neurosurgeon, who has treated the student since she was a toddler, according to the news site.

The focus on hope also aligns with the values and mission of Whistler Waldorf School.

“At Whistler Waldorf School, students learn from an early age to engage in their own learning process. The imaginative play and grace of the early years evolves into an experience of meeting the beauty and complexity of the world with sensitivity and hope,” according to the school’s website. “This foundation leads to a rich academic experience that supports young men and women in realizing their full potential as students, as people, as members of the global community.”

Scholars at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia point out that schools play an important role in the “moral ecology” of a community, which strongly influences students’ character.

“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 influences,” editors James Davison Hunter and Ryan S. Olson wrote in “The Content of Their Character,” a summary of character development practices in a wide variety of U.S. schools.

The Jubilee Center for Character and Virtues offers resources for educators working to influence positively the moral ecology of their communities and build character in students.

The report “Flourishing From the Margins,” for example, analyzes findings from data collected on 3,250 young people in a variety of educational settings, and offers teaching tools focused on character that educators can use to help struggling students to thrive.


Paralympian teaches students character through archery, life story

Sammi Tucker is teaching students in Sherrill, New York about persistence and focus, mindfulness and inner peace.

The U.S. Air Force veteran became the first woman to represent the United States in the Open Compound Para Archery Division during the 2016 Paralympics, a feat she accomplished after losing her left hand in a motorcycle accident that drastically changed her life, the Oneida Dispatch reports.

People learn best through story, experience, and indirection. Here as anticipated by researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture life lessons and moral culture are taught through the informal articulation of adult role models. They concluded, “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.”

Tucker explained how the experience shifted her outlook, and how archery helped her refocus on the things that truly matter. In school, Tucker said she was withdrawn, and became sad and afraid after high school. Years later, she crashed her motorcycle after an emotional event, and the sleeve of her jacket got caught in the chain of the bike, resulting the loss of her hand.  “I’m laying in the ditch and all I could think was that I was 41 years old and I didn’t know if my life mattered,” Tucker told students. “I didn’t know if I really loved anybody or if anything I did ever made a difference in anyone’s life.”

Tucker said she heard and felt God’s presence, and it propelled her to not only overcome the crash, but to rebuild her life with excitement. Along the way, she found archery.  “When you’re shooting, you can see your inner thoughts reflected on your target,” she said. “It’s an amazing resource for connecting to yourself and building mindfulness skills. It really is meditation. I developed a tuned-in ability to what I was thinking, because even if I wasn’t on the range, I was so aware of what I was thinking and that translated into daily life. That self-awareness has probably been one of the most impactful things in my life. And for kids to develop that skill now, it’ll transfer into everything.”

The talk and archery demonstration – in which Tucker draws her 45-pound bow with her teeth – took part with students of a variety of ages at Warrior Archery, part of the Oneida Indian Nation’s Oneida Heritage Sales and Retail. It’s part of a character building partnership between the Oneida YMCA and Oneida Heritage.

Students were also encouraged to try archery themselves, with Tucker’s help and pointers from young archers like 5-year-old Molly McHugh who are already in the program. McHugh’s parents said archery has become an analogy for Molly to improve her life and those around her in a supportive environment.

“She’s very motivated and keeps pushing through,” Molly’s mother, Lynne McHugh told the Dispatch. “And while she’s tiny, it makes her feel powerful.”

“You get these three different age groups together, all focused on one target, pun intended, and look at how they’re all getting along, encouraging and supporting each other. There’s no bullying or negativity,” Tucker added. “There’s just fun and encouragement. I think that’s what the sport of archery is. It’s a competition with yourself that brings out your inner strength.”

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.

MA students lobby lawmakers to improve civics education with new graduation requirement

Massachusetts high schoolers Mike Brodo and Zev Dickstein may not see eye-to-eye on politics, but they both agree on one thing: state lawmakers should pass a bill to promote civics education, including a requirement for a student-led civics project.

“I think that the political environment being highly polarized contributes to this indifference and ignorance of politics you see in the media, and there’s always two sides going at it and no one talking about the state issues, local issues, how do we collaborate and work together face-to-face,” Brodo, a senior at Xaverian Brothers High School and chairman of Massachusetts Teenage Republicans, told South Coast Today “It’s always just divisiveness and tweets, and none of that’s going to get anyone interested.”

Brodo trekked to Beacon Hill, the site of the Massachusetts Legislature in early April to advocate for Senate Bill 2375 alongside Dickstein, vice chairman of the Massachusetts High School Democrats. The legislation, which cleared the Senate in March and is now in the state House, would enhance the state’s civics education curriculum requirements and mandate that students complete a civics project for graduation.

“Civics education will allow student to decide whether they want to get involved in politics and be active,” Dickstein said. “I’m not saying that everyone has to be involved, but everybody needs to know enough about politics so that they can decide if they’d like to get involved.

“This bill will ensure that all students in public school districts will have the support they need to develop civic skills and knowledge necessary to be informed and voting citizens of the commonwealth of Massachusetts and the country.”

The Massachusetts bill is sponsored by Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, who urged students to “do a really hard sell on the projects component of this legislation,” South Coast Today reports.

This effort is consistent with  the findings of sociologist James Davison Hunter at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. He reports findings from James Coleman that “calls for the creation of ‘new environments’ in which young people could perform public service and other important civic roles.” The heart of his synthesis “specifies three decisive components of virtuous character: moral knowing, moral feeling, and moral action.” The goal of this program is to correctly incorporate these aspects into the daily education experience of students.

“This is what’s going to make it real,” Rep. Linda Dean Campbell said.  “When we talk to lower-income districts in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, this is what the teachers told us: ‘Make it real. It’s real for us now, we have issues that we’re concerned about now. Allow us to get that experience, hands-on experience, as to how to make politics work for us.”

Teachers and principals working to strengthen moral and citizenship education in their schools will find helpful information and strategies at the UK’s Jubilee Centre. In the Jubilee Centre’s own words, the following paragraph 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 and through its extensive range of projects contributes to a renewal of character virtues in both individuals and societies.”

Of particular note to educators is the Jubilee Centre’s document, “A Framework for Character Education in Schools” which provides an excellent description of virtue definitions and the building blocks of character and provides a list of teaching resources for teacher use.

Cincinnati arts and technology program helps students refocus their lives

Students attending the Cincinnati Arts and Technology Studios are getting a second chance at graduating high school, along with lessons about character many are carrying with them to college.

Aislynn Bell told the Cincinnati Business Courier she came to CATS for education and training services, but later discovered the program offered much more than practical skills.

“I needed guidance and I needed some discipline and I needed a path to follow,” she said. “It gave me a goal. It gave me something to shoot for.”

CATS isn’t technically a high school, but rather a “credit recovery program” for teens at risk of not graduating on time.

“We’re using the visual arts to reconnect disenfranchised students,” said CATS CEO Clara Martin, a former Cincinnati Public Schools teacher. “The public high school can definitely provide the core curriculum, but if they need that elective credit in fine arts, they can come here to get that at off times.”

According to the Business Courier:

ATS’ mission is to give urban teens from across the region a chance to become productive citizens by providing arts education as motivation to stay in school, graduate and advance to higher learning. It offers five studio courses in tandem with character building, and through its Bridging the Gap program, it offers education and training services to graduates. These services provide a chance to change their lives when unemployment is a reality. 

Bell, a 2014 graduate who followed CATS’ digital multimedia track, also used the Bridging the Gap program to become a patient care assistant at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. She said CATS offered a different experience that allowed students to own their work, while helping them to improve it.

“My favorite thing about it is they don’t tell you how to edit your picture; they teach you how to edit how you want to do it,” she said.

Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture commend programs of this type that use visual and fine arts. By their very nature these disciplines engage the more holistic right-brain phenomena. Rather than demanding or encouraging right and wrong answers, this participation in the arts takes the student’s own voice seriously. This is something that is often in short supply in the worlds in which they have been raised. This sense of ownership and voice strengthens their sense of agency. With agency comes hope that they can overcome their circumstances.

And while strengthening agency, they are also infusing the art with content specific virtues. These exercises are more than “pedagogies of permission,” that simply foster the unconstrained individual will. For more on the danger of “pedagogies of permission,” see The Tragedy of Moral Education in America.

CATS infuses art and technology lessons with a focus on character virtues like citizenship, perseverance, accountability, and the importance of higher education, while an ancillary Bridging the Gap component offers students training on everything from interviewing skills and email etiquette to certification training for nursing, manufacturing, construction, financial and other professions.

As the CATS program celebrates 15 years in downtown Cincinnati, many graduates returned to speak with current students about how the program changed their perspective on life.

“I feel like having the time and the ability to share my experience with these kids will give them a different outlook and a different way to see the program as a whole,” Ellen Pierce, a 23-year-old who went through the Bridging the Gap program, told students. “This could really lead to life-changing events.”

Pierce said she turned to CATS when she needed credit to graduate from Clark Montessori High School in 2012. Her success in the program gave her the confidence to become a State Tested Nursing Assistant through Bridging the Gap, and to earn a double-major at the University of Cincinnati. She now works two jobs, one at the Lindner Center of HOPE and another at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

“If I didn’t get the credit, I wouldn’t have graduated on time,” she said. “That most definitely would have killed my self-esteem and my drive to keep going with life. If I wasn’t going to take the (State Tested Nursing Assistant) class to be certified, I probably wouldn’t have worked at Children’s.”

Educators and education leaders who are interested in the type of strategies used in the CATS program in Cleveland can learn more by going to

“Kind Cougars” practice compassion

Irving Middle School’s “Kind Cougars” are highlighting important character virtues in a series of “virtue of the month” videos to encourage classmates to be kind and thoughtful toward one another.

Norman, Oklahoma, students Sutton and Connor Willis, Eva Condon, and Nora and Luke Morrow acted out a scenario to illustrate compassion for a February video, and they encouraged their classmates to document and share compassionate acts on campus.

“Compassion means feeling sympathetic or pity for those who are hurting or in pain,” Luke Morrow said.

“We’re going to use the hashtag #IMSvirtues,” the students said. “Anytime you see someone showing compassion, take a picture and post it on Instagram with the hashtag.”

Any student who shares will be entered into a drawing to win a special prize.

Compassion is a virtue that researcher Jeff Guhin documented in many urban public schools through his research for the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture. In The Content of Their Character, a summary of character formation in a variety of schools, Guhin notes:

Alongside the focus at all six of the schools on student achievement, the teachers, staff, and administrators all deeply prized compassion, especially in each other, and then to some extent in their students.

The Kind Cougars video is part of an initiative with the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing at the University of Oklahoma, which offers further reading on compassion.

‘Kind Cougars’ urge classmates to persevere

Irving Middle School’s “Kind Cougars” are highlighting important character virtues in a series of “virtue of the month” videos to encourage classmates to be kind and thoughtful toward one another.

Norman, Oklahoma, students Sutton Willis, Nora Morrow, Aliriah Barrett, and Eva Condon offered examples of perseverance in a January video, and discussed why it’s an important element of success.

“A great way to show perseverance is realizing you can push through the tough times and never give up,” Sutton said.

“ . . . If you have a divorce in your family, or you had a death, or you got a bad grade on a test, by pushing through it and never giving up, that’s showing perseverance,” Barrett added.

The virtue video project is an example of the kind of noncognitive learning that the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture’s James Davison Hunter and Ryan Olson deem “essential” in The Content of Their Character, a summary of research into character formation in a variety of schools.

To be sure, a considerable and consistent effort has been made to address the so-called “noncognitive” aspects of child development. By “noncognitive,” scholars and educators tend to mean the attitudes, behaviors, and strategies that are believed also to underpin success in school and at work—capacities such as self-motivation, perseverance, and self-control, but also empathy, honesty, truthfulness, and character more broadly. And surely the instinct is a good one: For children to flourish in schools and in their future lives, it is essential that these dimensions of their lives be developed too.

The Kind Cougars video is part of an initiative with the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing at the University of Oklahoma, which offers further reading on perseverance and why it’s especially important for students.

U.S. Department of Education prioritizes formation of “thoughtful, productive” citizens

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is prioritizing formation of the whole person, including citizenship education.

The U.S. Department of Education recently posted 11 priorities for use in the government’s discretionary grant programs that cover a variety of educational issues, from school choice to more efficient use of tax dollars to promoting science, technology, engineering, and math.

Priority 4” on the list is “fostering [the] knowledge and promoting the development of skills that prepare students to be informed, thoughtful, and productive individuals and citizens.” The Secretary of Education’s priorities, published in the Federal Register in mid-October, explain why it’s critical for schools to help students develop good character and a strong sense of citizenship.

“Research suggests that self-regulation, perseverance, and social skills play an important role in students’ academic, career, and life outcomes,” the notice states. “Unfortunately, national assessments suggest that our students often lack such skills.”

According to the Education Department, the average scores of 8th graders on the National Assessment of Education Progress civics test only increased by four percentage points between 1998 and 2014, and remain far below proficiency.

“Additionally, numerous international studies indicate our nation’s students are not performing as well as students in other countries. On the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 15-year-old students in the United States performed near the . . . average on financial literacy and slightly better than the . . . average on problem solving,” according to the notice in the Federal Register.

A major issue is that a large percentage of 15-year olds—about 18 percent—did very poorly on both assessments, scoring below the second of five levels on the PISA test.

According to the Education Department:

For the United States to compete globally, schools must better prepare students to obtain each of these types of skills. It is especially critical for students to master these skills as the number of jobs created by new businesses has substantially declined since the 1990s. In addition, while the number of business startups has climbed back to pre-2007-to-2009 recession levels, such activity has declined over the long term compared to peaks in the 1980s. Promoting the development of these skills can prepare students for later in life and prepare them for employment or entrepreneurship. This, in turn, will foster a learning society and ultimately boost Americans’ quality of life.

To that end, U.S. Education Department officials are calling on schools to develop projects that target a variety of the “priority areas.”

They include “fostering knowledge of the common rights and responsibilities of American citizenship and civic participation, such as through civics education,” as well as programs that “better prepare students for employment, responsible citizenship, and fulfilling lives” and promote “positive personal relationships with others.”

The Education Department is also looking for schools to help students develop “determination, perseverance, and the ability to overcome obstacles,” and “self-esteem through perseverance and earned success.”

Other “priority areas” involve helping students “control impulses and work toward long-term goals,” and “instruction in time management, job seeking, personal organization, public and interpersonal communication, or other practical skills needed for successful career outcomes,” according to the notice in the Federal Register.

These are certainly skills that employers are looking for, but they must be part of a coherent character that develops virtuous habits of kindness, loyalty, and courage. And rather than simply focusing on developing skills, efforts like the Education Department’s are best when they use the language of character and virtue, which signals that there are standards and commitments outside the individual student that should inform their lives.

“Subjectivity [required for effective character development] has given way to a subjectivism in which the experiences, interests, and sentiments of the autonomous individual are enshrined as the standards defining the height, length, and breadth of moral hope and possibility,” James Davison Hunter wrote in his book, The Tragedy of Moral Education in America.

If we wish to avoid further financial crises, corporate scandals, and social turmoil in schools, the standards of ethics and morality must be rooted in sources that help students understand right and wrong, and help them to make the right decision when it is difficult. Excellent examples can be found in The Content of Their Character: Inquiries into the Varieties of Moral Formation, as well as the Jubilee Centre’s character education framework.