When this principal calls parents, it’s for good reason

New Jersey elementary school principal Jennifer Asprocolas is making a lot of phone calls to parents this year, and for good reason.

“Honestly, my first thought was that something was wrong, more specifically one of my boys were sick and needed to be picked up from school,” said parent Marlena Romeo, recalling a recent call from Asprocolas about her son Chase. “When Ms. Asprocolas greeted me by asking me how I was doing, my response to her was that it depended on how the rest of the phone call went.”

Asprocolas explained that teachers at Schoenly School nominated her son for displaying good character, and she wanted Romeo to know the recognition earned a Positive Phone Call Home, a weekly ritual Asprocolas launched to recognize students who set a good example.

“When Chase came home he was so proud and excited to tell Gavin (his older brother) and his grandparents about what had happened,” Romeo told TAP into Milltown/Spotswood.

“He started off by telling them that he went to the principal’s office and she called home. He wanted to scare them before he told them that it was a positive phone call home. It was a big deal to Chase,” Romeo said. “The cutest thing he said was that he wanted to continue to be a good example because he didn’t want them to be sorry that they picked him.”

It’s not surprising that parents love this program. The “Culture of American Families” report from the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture shows an overwhelming percentage of parents—over 90 percent—“want their children to develop into loving, morally upright, reliable, and hardworking adults who preserve close ties to their families.”

Asprocolas told the news site she thinks it’s important to instill strong character at a young age. Each Thursday, she distributes a survey to teachers, who nominate students in pre-kindergarten through first grade based on virtues like trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.

Asprocolas surprises the winner in class, where the student poses with a special frame that looks like a Facebook post, which officials send out on the school’s social media accounts.

“On Friday mornings, I go into the class with the frame, take the picture and then we come back to my office to make the positive phone call home,” she told the news site.

“It actually started because . . . I wanted to boost more about character education,” Asprocolas said. “I think it’s important that we instill this in our young children, especially in early education.”

The principal added that the “priceless moments” she shares with the students and their families is a powerful way of connecting on a personal level.

“I’ve gotten everything from surprise to tearful to overjoyed,” she said of the responses. “A lot of ‘you’re going to get ice cream tonight,’ too.”

Asprocolas’ Positive Phone Call Home program unites school and family culture by creating a true celebration for parents to take pride in their child’s good character, while also cultivating a strong connection between the two. As University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter has written, “Moral education can work where the community, and schools and other institutions within it, share a moral culture that is integrated and mutually reinforcing: where the social networks of adult authority are strong, unified, and consistent in articulating moral ideals and their attending virtues; and where adults maintain a ‘caring watchfulness’ over all aspects of a young person’s maturation.”

School leaders can create a school-wide character focus beginning with a coherent framework like the one from the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues.