At Texas’ White Oak Middle School, students are learning about leadership, setting goals, career opportunities, and service work.

It’s part of an effort to give students “extra encouragement” to become role models for their classmates and others, and to help develop kids into responsible, respectable citizens who contribute to their community, the Longview News-Journal reports.

About 40 students enrolled in semester-long courses in leadership or career investigations this year, assistant superintendent Mitzi Neely said, and school officials are already noticing a “mindset shift” that’s making a positive impact.

“I had a student that came to me at the beginning of class who said, ‘I just wanted you to know I had a situation, and I wanted you to know how I handled it,’” Neely told the news site. “It was the total opposite of what he would’ve done four weeks ago, and he said, ‘It’s just about taking the high road … and not give in to what the negativity is.’”

Neely and White Oak principal Becky Balboa are working with the leadership students, while coach Roy Boyett leads the career investigations course, which involves online modules, personality and career survey, question-and-answer sessions with local professionals, job fairs and other work to help students get a head start on planning for high school and beyond.

In the leadership class, the focus is on developing character virtues, personal finance and service projects like a recent luncheon to give thanks to local police and firefighters on September 11, the News-Journal reports.

“I think (the community service project) will help us be more thankful for what they do for us,” eighth-grader Landyn Grant told the news site.

The intent, classmate Dyllon Heist said, is to show “a great respect for what they do.”

Heist told the News-Journal that while he initially signed up for the leadership course to spend time with Landyn, his best friend, the class has ultimately helped him “be a better person.”

“After being in there for a couple of weeks, it was like I’m having fun with Landyn, plus I’m learning,” he said. “(Before the class) I was, like, ‘I’m going to fight everybody,’ but taking the high road’s better. It really taught me to be a better person.”

The approach at White Oak Middle School is similar to “alternative pedagogy” schools in that it provides needed context for moral formation.

David Sikkink, researcher with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, explained how alternative pedagogy schools work in “The Content of Their Character,” a summary of character education in a wide variety of different U.S. high schools.

At alternative pedagogy schools, Sikkink noted “a distinctive organization and distinctive practices and orientations that generated a particular context for student moral and civic formation,” as well as “a fairly explicit understanding of student formation goals, which to a large extent were an outgrowth of an alternative vision of the educational task.”

The Jubilee Center for Character and Virtues provides resources for educators who want to help students develop their own “good sense,” a foundational concept that factors into everything from leadership to college and career planning to community service work.

“Living with ‘good sense’ sets out the ways and means of realizing the good in the down to earth, concrete realities of any given situation,” according to the lesson “An Intellectual Virtue: Good Sense.” “When it is well practiced, it enables suppleness in the face of the complexities of the ethical life. It is the essence of a life well-lived.”


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