NY students interview vets, use stories to create interactive book

Fourth graders in Pittsford, New York’s Thornell Road Elementary School are making some new friends in their community and chronicling their stories in a book about service and sacrifice.

Teacher Toni Stevens-Oliver’s class recently interviewed 23 veterans from the Rayson-Miller American Legion Post 899 to get an intimate understanding of why they joined the service and how it shaped their lives. The students then chronicled the stories in a new book called “Veteran’s Voices” – which also features an online app to view videos of the veterans in their own words, WHAM reports.

“The book was a way for us to connect one-on-one personally a student with a veteran and get to know each other through the veteran telling their story and the student writing that story,” Stevens-Oliver told the news site.

The veterans “were blown away by the interest the students showed, the respect the children showed,” she said. “We hope our book inspires people to ask their local veterans what their story is.”

Students told WHAM they learned a lot from the class project.

“Freedom isn’t free, and the veterans sacrificed a lot of things,” student James Kazacos said. “They sacrificed time with their family, holidays.”

“They are just like normal people, except that they step up and do a job that takes courage,” classmate Jake Schreyer added.

Al Herdkoltz, commander of the Rayson-Miller post, said the effort gives him hope the stories of local veterans will not be forgotten.

“They actually had an interest and they were my friends,” he said. “I felt very comfortable and at ease. I felt I had a new friendship even though there was quite a bit of age difference, they were my friends.”

Steven-Oliver shared the project on Shutterfly and posted supporting documents to her Pittsford Schools website as a template for teachers looking to pursue a similar project. The school page also features a special shout out from Sen. Rich Funke acknowledging students’ hard work.

“To take the time to not only interview our veterans, but to take those interviews and incorporate them into an interactive book was special, not just to them but to all of us who care about our veterans,” Funke said in a video message.

Researchers at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture stress the importance of developing a sense of responsibility for and ownership of something larger than students’ self-interests. In The Content of Their Character, researchers noted how rural schools are particularly strong at fostering connections to broader spheres of moral obligation through immigration, religion and the military.

“In addition to building greater knowledge of cultures and societies outside of the U.S.,” researchers wrote, great teachers “were aiming primarily to build social-perspective taking, empathy and general critical thinking skills.”

Much of the work centers on gratitude, and the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers a plethora of research on the subject, including the public’s perception of gratitude and links between the virtue and service.

“More recently, the Centre has extended its focus on gratitude by examining the effects of teaching interventions on comprehensions of gratitude and related virtues,” according to the website.

School resource officer’s new deputy finds purpose on patrol

Bay Minette, Alabama first-grader Braylon Henson wants to be a police officer when he grows up, thanks to school resource officer Ronald Saladin.

“I noticed his classmates were out there playing and he was in here by himself,” Saladin told WKRG. “I let him come walk with me because he felt left out.”

The 6-year-old was born with a condition known as Ectodernal Dysplasia, which means he was born without sweat glands and cannot go outside when the temperature is above 74 degrees. Teachers know to rub the boy down with ice if he overheats, but his condition means he can’t participate in all of the same activities as his classmates.

“He felt left out, and I didn’t want him to feel left out,” Saladin said. “His mom was afraid he was going to get picked on and bullied when he came to school.”

So Saladin befriended his little partner in August, and the duo have been patrolling the halls of Bay Minette Elementary ever since. Saladin even bought Henson his own mini uniform, complete with handcuffs, hat and badge.

“He would take my stuff but he wanted his own little uniform,” Saladin said.

Henson takes his new responsibility seriously.

“You know what you’re getting, right? A ticket,” Henson told a teacher after he found a pencil on the floor during a recent patrol.

“Hey! I’ll be back,” he warned another classroom.

Teachers told WKRG they’ve noticed Henson’s grades improving since he took on his new role, and it’s obvious his celebrity status on campus boosted his confidence.

“It’s definitely a blessing,” Saladin said, “like it was meant to be.”

The friendship between Saladin and Henson illustrates an important aspect of character education, through both Saladin’s mentorship and Henson’s new-found mission.

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture, wrote in his book “The Death of Character:”

Implicit in the word character is a story. It is a story about living for a purpose that is greater than the self.

Kenneth Shore, a psychologist, author and chair of a child study team for the Hamilton, New Jersey Public Schools, penned a column for Education World about ways educators can encourage students to engage in school.

“As a teacher, you will have greater success spurring a student to speak up if you can figure out why he is reluctant to participate,” Shore advises. “Whatever the reason for his reticence, your role is not to force him to speak; doing so will more likely make him clam up than open up. Your role is to provide a supportive, encouraging climate that helps him feel more comfortable, more confident, and less fearful of speaking up.”


TN schools stress importance of ‘upstanders,’ reporting tools in fight against bullying

Tennessee teen Cicela Hernandez has been on both sides of bullying.

After relentless teasing about the way she dressed, hair on her leg, and her family’s financials, Hernandez turned the tables to torment other students to vent her frustrations. She eventually began to lash out in class, and to harm herself in a destructive cycle that also involved sexual abuse in a home she shared with her mother and another family member.

It wasn’t until a sixth-grade teacher stopped to talk to Hernandez about her troubles that she started on a path to recovery that ultimately led to graduation and a scholarship to attend college.

“I really couldn’t control much of the anger I felt inside,” Hernandez told The Tennessean. “He was the first person to ask me, ‘What’s wrong?’”

Hernandez’s story could have ended much differently, and it illustrates the critical role “upstanders” play in the lives of the roughly 21 percent of teenage students who experience bullying in U.S. schools each year, according to the news site.

“If they don’t know how to access help or they feel like nobody cares about them, that’s the worst-case scenario,” said Lauren Dickson, a social worker for STARS, a Nashville nonprofit focused on bullying, substance abuse and violence among youth. “In those situations, problems just get bigger. They can fester.”

Brought to their ultimate conclusion, they can also lead to the types of disgruntled student shootings plaguing schools across the country. And preventing a tragic outcome often rests on the adults in students’ lives, and resources available to help.

Numerous hotlines, available both in person and through text, offer counseling, from the Tennessee statewide crisis line, to the National Suicide Prevention, to the National Sexual Assault Hotline. Schools in Tennessee and numerous other states are also working with anti-bullying apps for smartphones to streamline the reporting process.

But Rodger Dinwiddle, CEO of STARS, contends it’s the adults in students’ lives that can make the biggest difference.

“Dinwiddle talks about the ‘web of five’ confidants for kids,” The Tennessean reports. “This is a group of at least five adults – a teacher, a counselor, a coach, someone in a faith community, an aunt, a grandparent, a mentor – whom a child trusts enough to talk to about any issues they may face at home and school.”

“It’s really important for kids to feel safe with somebody in that school building that they can report to,” he said. “So that if anything happens to them, there is someone there to catch them.”

Dinwiddle explained it’s about developing habits of looking for signs of trouble to intervene before it’s too late. It’s about creating upstanders – rather than bystanders – to bullying and other issues through a new tradition of kindness and compassion.

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture, pointed to the importance of establishing those habits and traditions to prompt people to take action when the time is right.

“What empathy we feel may help us understand someone else’s needs, and even feel the desire to help that person,” Hunter wrote in “The Tragedy of Moral Education in America.” “But without embedded habits and moral traditions, empathy does not tell us what to do, nor when, nor how.”

In Tennessee, more than 180 schools have signed up with the anonymous reporting app STOPit to allow students to share their concerns about bullying classmates or other dangers.

“Students are digital natives and many choose to communicate, first, through digital means rather than face-to-face conversations,” Robb Killen, Maury County Public Schools’ supervisor of counseling, said on the STOPit website. “This program meets them where they are … they can, more easily, stand up for each other and create a culture of safety, caring, and respect.”

TX teacher’s coffee cart helps special needs students build social skills

A first-year special education teacher in Texas is getting a lot of attention for a creative idea she came up with to help students overcome their disabilities and to help them learn communication and other life skills.

Recent Texas A&M graduate Shelby Winder took a portion of her modest starting salary to buy a coffee cart for special education students in her Life Skills class at Grand Oaks High School in Spring, Texas. The idea is to allow students to run a coffee bar as a small business, which they dubbed “The Grizzly Bean,” while helping students strengthen communication and social skills, Rare reports.

Texas author and life coach Chris Field posted about Winder’s efforts on Facebook.

The coffee cart “would allow her students to walk around to each of the teachers and staff in the school and take their orders and then deliver their coffee to them on Fridays. Most importantly, this would allow the students to practice their social skills, communication, working through their shyness, and even learning how to run a simple business by calculating their expenses and profits,” Field wrote, adding that he was so impressed he helped repay the teacher for her expenses.

“Her students have now been at this a couple weeks … and she says they are absolutely loving it,” he wrote. “It’s obviously a great teaching tool and one that will give them skills and lessons to carry far beyond this school year.”

The practical life skills of counting and collecting cash are only part of a bigger message Winder is hoping to convey, according to Field.

“One of the coolest parts of this story is that Shelby has the goal of using some of the profits from her class’s coffee business to actually provide funds for another school to start the same project,” he wrote. “Then they would do the same, and they would do the same, and so on and so forth. How cool is that?!”

Winder planted a seed that’s growing into something bigger, both through new habits of communication and socialization for students and new school traditions motivated by compassion and understanding for students with special needs. Those habits and traditions are critical to effective character education.

“What empathy we feel may help us understand someone else’s needs, and even feel the desire to help that person,” James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture wrote in “The Tragedy of Moral Education.” “But without embedded habits and moral traditions, empathy does not tell us what to do, nor when nor how.”

The Ripple Kindness Project outlines many of the ways students benefit from a focus on practicing kindness in “8 Reasons For Teaching Kindness In School.”

Patty O’Grady, an expert in neuroscience, explained that “Children and adolescents do not learn kindness by only thinking about it and talking about it.

“Kindness is best learned by feeling it so that they can reproduce it,” O’Grady said. “Kindness is an emotion that students feel and empathy is a strength that they share.”

Student patriotism at ID elementary goes viral, highlights influence of school employees

When Idaho mother Amanda Reallan arrived at Hayden Meadows Elementary to pick up her kids after school one day last month, what she witnessed compelled her to take a photo and post it online.

Before long, the picture went viral, prompting near universal applause from across the internet.

The picture showed three fifth graders struggling to keep the American flag from touching the ground as they retrieved it for the day, with one of the boys literally lying on the ground to prevent it from touching, KREM reports.

“We’ve had a bunch of close calls,” according to Jack LeBreck, who laid his body on the line to protect Old Glory. “But I thought it would happen because it was kind of a windy day. So I just thought of laying down … and seeing what would happen.”

The boys, all Cub Scouts, were selected for the task by school custodian Mac McCarty, a 20-year veteran in the U.S. Air Force who taught them everything they know about flag etiquette.

“It was all because of our custodian, Mr. Mac,” LeBreck said.

“What they did yesterday was obviously all of them … laying on the ground and all that,” McCarty said. “And I’m very proud.”

The inspiring photo was shared more than 2,000 times in just the one day following the patriotic act. The students, amazed by the online reaction, said the flag duty is an honor they don’t take lightly.

“It’s really a great privilege,” said Casey Dolan, who was also in the photo with classmate Nalan Tuttle. “I feel really lucky I was chosen for it.”

Reallan told KREM she was “overwhelmed with pride” when she came across the boys last month, and she’s glad to see the positive attention it’s focused on the community.

“They did themselves proud, they did their families proud, they did their school proud, and I am very proud of them,” McCarty said.

The students’ initiative to protect the flag is a timely reminder of the nature of morality.

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

Morality is a vision of moral good shared by a community; the attitudes, aspirations, sensibilities, and dispositions that define its highest aspiration for itself, and how those moral goods find expression in every situation in daily life.

McCarty is a prime example of how school employees, as well as educators, have the power to not only positively influence students, but also many others in the community and beyond.

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues has a very interesting article, Living Within Reason, that outlines the thinking of Thomas Aquinas on cardinal virtues that lead to a good and just life.

Teachers and principals working to strengthen students’ character could ways to incorporate the pursuit of these virtues as part of the daily experience of students.

AL students mount campaign against child clothing manufacturer over conditions for garment workers

Students for Fair Labor at the University of Alabama believe garment workers in El Salvador are being exploited by apparel manufacturers, so they’re pressuring university officials to do something about it.

“Our overall goal is to make multinational companies accountable to the people that they exploit who work on university campuses, in our communities and in the overseas factories where collegiate apparel is produced,” the group’s leader, Amber Chan, told The Crimson White student newspaper.

Chan explained that the University of Alabama licenses its logo to a Miami, Florida-based company called Vive La Fete, which manufacturers children’s clothes at factories in El Salvador. The company doesn’t sell clothes at the school, but does sell clothes with the university logo online.

Students for Fair Labor contends women embroidery workers are treated poorly by Vive La Fete, and the group has demanded the company pay them $1.2 million in back pay, pension, vacation days, health benefits and allow the women to form a union. Students contend the women are grossly overworked and underpaid.

The group also pressured the Student Government Association to call on the University to put Vive La Fete “on notice” by reiterating SFL’s demands to the company, according to the news site.

SFL students delivered the letter from the student government to President Stuart Bell’s office in late September and promised campus activism would “escalate in various ways” if the University fails to act on the group’s demands, Chan said.

Convincing the University to end its licensing agreement with Vive La Fete is the SFL’s ultimate goal.

“We’re just trying to keep The University of Alabama accountable for the kinds of businesses that they deal with,” said junior SFL member Rivers Jackson. “And then also just seeing that human beings are treated equally and fairly, specifically workers, and make sure their human rights are met.”

University officials have not yet responded to the students’ requests, which follow a long line of similar activism on college campuses that dates back decades.

And regardless of whether folks agree with the effort, the tradition can have a significant impact on students because “it is through experience that students participate in moral community and practice moral action,” according to James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

In his book, “The Death of Character,” Hunter wrote, “Experience is always a precursor to the possession of character and practical wisdom.”

The Alpha Omega Academy, a Christian online academy, provides “Ways to Grow Student Involvement in Community Service” to help parents and educators get student engaged in volunteer and service work.

“Often volunteering is a reflection of a strong emotional connection to a cause that’s personally affected an individual,” the guide advises. “Find what your student is passionate about first; without a driving focus, his enthusiasm to help will quickly fade.”

“The deeper your student feels the need, the more likely he will act to better the world around him,” according to the site.

Parents complain about student survey about bullying, violence and sex assault

Efforts in a South Carolina school to broach sexual assault and other sensitive subjects with students is meeting resistance from some parents who believe the discussions are better left at home.

Jennifer McAteer, mother of a Lancaster High School student, told WCNC she was disappointed when her son texted her about a school sex survey he was asked to complete in class last week.

“You know, if they want to do a survey, that’s fine do a survey, do it online with your mom and dad, mail it, whatever, but this isn’t something to go in the classroom and be presented with before parents know and before we can talk about it with our minor children,” she said.

“I hope that this does not start the conversation, which it has,” McAteer said. “I think this should be talked about with me and my children, not through children and my children. This should be talked about at home.”

Paul McKenzie, the district’s veteran research director, told the news site he crafted the survey as part of a broader effort to gauge teen perceptions of bullying, violence and sexual assault ahead of a new program called “Engaging Men and Boys.”

The survey includes questions such as: “You’re at a party and a girl there is drunk and passes out. Some boys decide to take her to a bedroom and take turns having sex with the young lady, what would you do?”

“It’s an effort to get young men that when bad things happen, they stand up and take a stance,” McKenzie said. “And so that’s what that question was, ‘What would you do? Would you call the police? Would You call a parent? Would you not know what to do at all?’”

“Engaging Men and Boys” is an elective course at the school run by the group “Palmetto Citizens Against Sexual Assault” using a curriculum developed in coordination with a local church. The class is designed to include church leaders, police and other community leaders to help serve as role models for students who don’t have a strong male influence at home.

The survey, McKenzie said, serves as a baseline for progress.

“The data that we collect is not only to identify problems but also to help us generate solutions and monitor to see if they’re working or not,” he said.

A year-long Associated Press investigation published last year uncovered roughly 17,000 reports of sex assaults by K-12 students between 2011 and 2015.

Researchers with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia noted that some public high school teachers’ are reluctant to engage students in controversial issues like sexual assault and that this has potential to undermines character education.

They observed “this failure to provide a fully developed and broadly coherent moral message was partly due to public school teachers’ reluctance to opine on controversial issues,” Institute founder James Davison Hunter wrote in “The Content of Their Character,” a summary of character education in a wide variety of schools.

The situation means many often refrain from “providing serious direction on what is right and what is wrong,” Hunter wrote.

A 2010 study from the University of Newcastle takes a deeper look at “Teaching about, and dealing with, sensitive issues in schools,” particularly from the perspective of pre-service teachers.

“Teachers are developing an increasingly active role in the education of students in areas of sensitivity, including issues such as sexuality, mental health, grief and loss and child protection. There is a growing expectation for teachers to become competent not only in educating students in these areas but also in recognizing and dealing with such matters if and when they arise in the classroom,” according to the study.

“However, a large proportion of teachers express discomfort in these areas, resulting in negative outcomes for both teachers and students.”

Students march on September 11 to honor first responders

Students at Muskogee, Oklahoma’s Early Childhood Center may not fully understand the gravity of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but they’re getting a sense of the American spirit that brought the country together in the wake of that horrific day.

“This is great to see 4-year-old children honor and remember what this day means for our country,” District Attorney Orvil Loge told the Muskogee Phoenix as children paraded down Broadway waiving tiny American flags.

The youngsters spent the 17th anniversary of 9/11 participating in an annual march the school has held since 2002 to pay tribute to those who lost their lives, as well as local first responders who keep the community safe.

“Ever since then, it’s just gotten bigger and better,” ECC Principal Malinda Lindsey said.

Lindsay told the news site the intent is to focus on character virtues like cooperation, respect and citizenship, while getting kids out in the community to show their patriotism.

This year’s march kicked off with an assembly to give thanks to veterans and first responders, followed by a walk to the Muskeogee Public Schools Board of Education Service and Technology Center, where administrators dolled out cookies and congratulations.

A large fire truck, police cruisers and an ambulance escorted the children, who wore crafted paper hats, American flags and chanted “USA, USA!”

“It’s so fun to just watch them walk down the street,” Muskogee Public Schools Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall told the Phoenix. “They seem to be really excited about it.”

The superintendent said the march is part of the district’s effort to promote citizenship “and being part of our country.”

“And I think this starts early,” he said. “Doing this parade is one of those moments you can do that with kids and teach them it’s really important to be a good citizen and celebrate being an American.”

Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture point out that the way school teach citizenship matters as much as the content of citizenship because character and citizenship are formed through shared social practices.

IASC founder James Davison Hunter wrote in “The Death of Character”:

Character is not … solitary, autonomous, unconstrained; merely a set of traits within a unique and unencumbered personality. Character is very much social in its constitution. It is inseparable from the culture within which it is found and formed.

The Association for Citizenship Teaching offers numerous resources for educators and others to help students develop the knowledge, skills and understanding to participate as active and responsible citizens.

Those resources include a Citizenship Curriculum, as well as projects, journals, awards and other advice.

Atlanta principals focus on school culture to improve student learning

Principals in Atlanta, Georgia’s low-performing schools are leading a change in school culture they’re hoping to leverage into better academic outcomes for students.

Principals at Perkerson Elementary and Carver High school recently offered a look inside major changes underway as part of a broader effort to transform the district that also includes staffing changes and nonprofit contractors, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Carver High School principal Yusuf Muhammad explained how Purpose Built Schools Atlanta is helping school officials implement a project-based learning approach that centers on students “at the core of the learning.”

“Instead of just, ‘Here’s a textbook, and you read the textbook’ or ‘ …I’m going to lecture and tell you what to do and you have to memorize what you have to learn,’ the students will be designing projects that are aligned to, of course, the state standards but also to their lives, so it’s culturally based,” Muhammad said.

The new approach takes lessons about math, science, history and other subjects and applies it to issues in students’ high-poverty neighborhood, while also expanding class offerings and clubs students can participate in during the school day, according to the news site.

Administrators also implemented changes to make the school “feel” more inviting, such as replacing the traditional bell signaling class periods to a pleasant message: “Good afternoon kings and queens. At this time, we will start our transition to our third block.”

“I just really worked on culture, creating a culture of love … and that we have high expectations,” Muhammad told the Journal-Constitution. “I know that we couldn’t make huge academic gains right away without improving the culture.”

Tony Ford, principal at Perkerson, is also focused on transforming school culture, though with an entirely different approach. He set up a system of rewards and competitions based on the “house” system popularized by Harry Potter. Students who behave earn tokens and compete for parties with the principal. Students also receive a “paycheck” for good behavior they can use at a school store called The Perkerson Pit Stop.

“Imagine: Hanging out with the principal as an honor and not a punishment,” the AJC reports. “That’s the school he’s trying to create.”

Researchers with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture have highlighted the important role culture – which extends to students’ mental state, home life, and after school community – plays in shaping character.

“The form of character is one thing, but the substance of character always takes shape relative to the culture in which it is found,” Institute founder James Davison Hunter wrote in “The Tragedy of Moral Education.”

Character.org provides resources for educators and principals working to transform school culture and instill positive character virtues in students, from conversations on key topics and training sessions to “11 Principles of Effective Character Education,” which offers tips on implementing positive change.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It makes up happy,” his classmate added.

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

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

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

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

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

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