This year marked the 15th National Forum on Character Education organized by the Character Education Partnership. The annual conference was held October 17-19, 2008 in Arlington, Virginia. The slogan “Character is Destiny” was embraced by each of the four keynote speakers as they shared their individual messages. The resounding theme of the weekend was that building people of character now is imperative to ensure that our students have the ability to behave morally and make ethical decisions in the future. The belief that good character can be taught in schools and, when done correctly, can improve attitudes, attendance, test scores, and more is what led nearly 800 attendees to Virginia to learn new techniques to accomplish just that.
Amidst the crowd of hundreds were two representatives from Queen Anne’s County, Elizabeth Miller and Elaine Butler, hoping to learn new character education ideas to incorporate into their positions within the county. Elizabeth Miller has been an active member of our community since moving to Centreville ten years ago. She is currently the Program Coordinator for the Sudlersville Even Start Family Literacy Program and attended the conference hoping to “discover ways in which to incorporate Character Education at the Early Childhood Education level as well as at the Parenting Education Level.” Elaine Butler, a fourteen year resident of the county, is currently the Parent Coordinator at Sudlersville Elementary School and has recognized the need for character training at many grade levels to ensure the students continue to exhibit good character, even when it may not be considered “cool” by their peers. Both representatives agree that it is important to involve the parents in character education, as well as the students, to ultimately improve academic success.
As a previous intern with the United States’ Attorney’s Office in the Chronic Offender and Felony Division and also as a Para-legal in the Anti-Trust and White-Collar Crime Divisions, Miller appreciates the need for character education now. She states, “I think it very important to have good character traits, and for it to be taught to our future generations in an effort to make our country and our society a better place.” She added that one of the seminars she attended focused on the relationship between lack of character and school performance. Surveys have shown that as schools improved their Character Education programs, the schools performance in band competitions, sports events, and even daily attendance improved. Butler agrees, stating that “concentration on good character is even more important then on academic achievement, because when we make good character a priority all things good will follow including academic achievement.”
Of the many new ideas Butler heard at the conference, the one she hopes to see implemented in our county is modeled after the 2008 National School of Character Winner, Babylon Memorial Grade School. Each morning they have a “morning meeting,” which is fifteen minutes at the beginning of the day designated for teaching social skills. This meeting is designed to set the tone for the day, motivate the students, provide a sense of belonging, and establish trust among the students and teachers. It also serves as a way to merge social, emotional, and intellectual learning.
Miller and Butler would absolutely recommend the annual conference to others in the community as an excellent way of brainstorming ideas to enhance our programs and networking with people from all over the country. Involving the entire community is a positive way to stress the importance of good character now, in order to ensure a successful future for our students and our county. If you would like more information on Character Counts!, please contact Jacki Carter at 410-758-6677. For information on the 5-year study on character education programs’ impact on student achievement and behavior, download the report Growing Character, Cultivating Achievement at www.MarylandPublicSchools.org. The Mid-Shore (Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Talbot and Queen Anne’s counties) area was a part of the study. Large effect sizes were found in our Character Counts! program, which were effective in terms of both behavior and academic outcomes.