The Character Connection Program:
Sharing Responsibility With Parents for Students' Success
As Sarah skipped happily to the Pearson School cafeteria, she tripped and fell to the ground. Johnny and David, following close behind, laughed, jumped over the sobbing little girl and continued on their way. This incident troubled me deeply and I thought, "What can I do to help our children have a sense of conscience?"
Three years ago my colleague Janie Hamilton and I were becoming increasingly concerned about the behavior of our students. We teach at a multilingual elementary school with other veteran teachers who work together as a cohesive family, dedicated to educating students from a wide range of linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Each year our students surpassed the state-mandated academic standards but we were beginning to question whether we were fostering good people as well as strong students. It seemed that the children were becoming less kind, showing less compassion to others.
Our school district, an advocate and model in the character education process, established a Character Committee, but we questioned whether any lesson we taught or any book we read would have significant positive impact in altering the behavior and character of our students. We realized that as teachers, administrators, and parents scramble to find ways to curb violence and promote ethics in our schools, the workplace, and society, we need to address the real questions: Where does the formation of character and values begin? Who is responsible for the positive formation of these traits?
We believe that character development begins at home in the conversations that children have with their parents. Parents are the primary moral educators of their children. A recent report by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory featured in Education Week (12/11/03) supports parent responsibility: "When schools, families and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer and like school more." (Henderson & Mapp, 2002)
Janie and I realized that discipline and strong academics were not enough. We had to address our students' character development and we knew that the most effective way was through working with their parents. We found that our students' parents were feeling the same need; many of them were asking us for help.
After reflecting on our own childhood and
our experiences as parents, Janie and I decided to try a new approach.
We designed a series of homework projects that encourage parents to talk
with their children and guide them, using their personal values and ethics
as a compass.
The Character Connection Program
Realizing that the parent is the primary influence in a child's life, we were determined to work as partners with parents in the education process. Viewing character development as an essential part of this process, we encouraged conversations at home by creating a platform for values discussion. Because many of our students come from non-English speaking homes, we have translated our program into Spanish.
Setting high objectives for ourselves, we decided to:
Homework in our classes now serves as both
academic review and a platform for moral and ethical discussions. With
the help of colleagues and parent volunteers, a character education assignment
is attached to the weekly homework, asking the parents to talk to their
children about an important issue. We ask parents to record their
discussions and return the assignment to school.
Through the Character Connection Homework Program, our families discuss topics such as:
These discussion items are aligned with
the character traits of
Is It Worth It?
To our surprise, because of our constant contact with our parents in the homework program, our students' academic achievement has increased and their parents are more involved in their childrens' education. Parents also volunteer more to help in class and we develop a bond with each of the families of our sixty-six students. This does not magically happen. It takes perseverance—making phone calls and engaging in parent conferences, instilling the need in parents for their involvement.
One of the most touching projects is a
Valentine that parents design as a surprise for their children on Valentine's
Day. Excited parents bring these Valentines to school, knowing they
are giving their children precious memories. Each Valentine touches
our hearts as we read the priceless treasure to each child in front of
the class. The school year concludes with a Memorial Day Service,
Mother's Day Tea, Donuts for Dad Play Day, Firemen and Policemen Read-in
and graduation. Each special occasion brings parents, caregivers,
relatives and friends of the community to our classrooms.
Our Program Expands
Our class involvement has expanded to the school and the community through service learning. With the help of our now-involved parents, we have initiated a monthly manners luncheon with candles, music, and tablecloths for all Pearson students. Our small school of 400 students collected over 1,500 cans of food for the poor and homeless. Throughout the year our students prepared holiday programs and made decorations for a convalescent hospital. The children and parents also purchased and sent books to the Children's Crisis Center and recorded holiday songs for the blind. Three classrooms provide animals through Heifer Project International.
In the new year, the children distributed student-made posters on virtues to local businesses and government agencies. Many businesses and city, state, and national officials acknowledged our posters and praised our efforts. President Bush noted our efforts with a picture and letter. In February, our students created and delivered Valentines to the residents of convalescent hospitals.
Children in our program aspire to know the good, desire the good, and do the good as they wear their school T-shirts proclaiming them "Students of Character at Pearson School." Parents and children also receive awards for being terrific parents and students of character at our monthly award ceremony. "Mr. Character Ed", our assistant superintendent, visits classrooms and assemblies to speak about character.
It seems that our enthusiasm has become
infectious as more teachers and parents join the ranks of character educators
at our school and in our district.
Does the Character Connection Work?
To answer this question we polled our parents in a pre- and post-assessment after the first year. We found that:
Although our focus began with specific parent activities aimed at academic growth and values discussion in the home, our school has now become a laboratory where students can test themselves and their beliefs, explore their talents and develop the many facets of service learning. Citizenship projects, which include a broad scope of civic activities, provide essential opportunities for students and their families to participate in community service.
School and civic involvement includes:
Our book Character Connection for Parent, Child, and School offers activities organized by the school year calendar with instructions for parents in both English and Spanish. Follow the link for an order form.
Updated 23 April 2006
© Marla Loew and Janie Hamilton Marchini
Website Design: Shirley Butler