What a weekend! Over 650 educators from all over the world united in our nation’s capitol to inspire greatness and pave the path for the future of character education. Attendees enjoyed, two full days of thought-provoking breakouts and inspiring keynotes from speakers like Nicholas Kristof, New York Times Columnist and two-time Pulitzer winner, and Mary Gordon, founder and president of Roots of Empathy.

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“This forum was truly inspiring. We were privileged to learn from true leaders in the field of Character Education. We gathered so many ideas and we are planning to share them with the rest of our faculty. We all came back rejuvenated and eager to help our students further develop in character.”
– Lisa Leonard, Saint Joseph Catholic School Counselor and Character Committee Chair


Character Matters

David Brooks, NY Times columnist and 2013 Forum keynote speaker, wrote in a recent column that “Nearly every parent on earth operates on the assumption that character matters a lot to the life outcomes of their children. Nearly every government antipoverty program operates on the assumption that it doesn’t.” As he went on to stress the importance of character and noted the social research that shows its importance, I was cheering him on. I was still with him as he described research that shows that proper experiences can improve performance values such as resilience and self-control.

But then he added, “The superficial ‘character education’ programs implanted into some schools of late haven’t done much either” and I was dismayed. Statements like this add to impressions that character education doesn’t work, but we have evidence that it does. [Link to Marvin’s What Works in Character Education?] Of course, there are superficial attempts out there, but what schools do when they implement CEP’s framework, the 11 Principles of Effective Character Education, is not superficial. It is complex and challenging, and it does make a difference.

Take the example of Smith Street School, a nationally recognized Blue Ribbon School located in Uniondale, New York, and a 2014 National School of Character. IMG_0914Despite numerous challenges (a high poverty rate with 67% of Smith Street students eligible for free or reduced lunch), Smith Street School (SSS) is flourishing. The school consistently outperforms the district and state on test scores. In 2013, passing rates were 13% higher than the district and 9% higher than state averages.

SSS’s character journey began in 2005 and continuously evolved to meet the needs of a diverse community. “We work hard to include parents in our efforts,” says social worker Colleen Parris, “We know that the messages we give here will stick better if they are reinforced at home.”

Parents, teachers and staff developed the touchstone of the “3 R’s: Respect, Responsibility, and Reflection,” and are highly involved in driving initiatives.

Despite significant challenges, Smith Street School is a shining beacon for what can happen on a campus when students, faculty, staff, and the broader community are collectively committed to character education, not only in school, but in life.

Community of Peace schoolAnother great example of effective character education is Community of Peace Academy (CPA), in St. Paul, Minnesota, a K-12 school with a rich history of accomplishments. In 2003 and 2014, they were named a CEP National School of Character; in 2005, a National Peacebuilders Model Site by Peace Partners, Inc.; and in 2007, a National Charter School of the Year by the Center for Educational Reform. The school believes that people will “more likely make moral decisions and choices if they are members of a moral community.”

With a highly diverse student population predominantly comprised of Asian, Hispanic and African-Americans, 86% of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch, CPA has developed a school community that best exemplifies the concept of rigor and compassion. CPA’s graduation rate is 86.9% and of the graduates, 93% go on to 2- or 4 year-colleges.

As clearly articulated by students, staff and parents, CPA is a school whose founding in 1995 was based on a desire to link academics and character and is the paragon of what schools can accomplish when they foster the “right and the good.”

See more examples of successful schools who have implemented effective character education.

While we typically showcase the total school climate, the power of character education is most important for the difference it makes for students. While we don’t always know what happens to students when the leave Schools of Character, we have this powerful testimony in our files.

As a 7th grade student, Mandy had been failing every class at her last school, her attendance was terrible, she had been hospitalized with suicidal tendencies and she absolutely hated school. As a new student at a School of Character, she was cared for and connected to programs that would help Mandy turned her life around. Over the next two years, she blossomed into a beautiful and healthy young lady. At the end of her 8th grade year, Mandy learned that she and her mother were moving. In the middle of her first year in high school, she sent this e-mail to her principal:

Hey … It’s Mandy from last year. I just wanted you to know that I really do miss your school and the help you provided me. I hope you know that your school has helped me better myself emotionally and physically. I always do my homework, I have A’s and B’s in every class… I’m running for secretary and I’m going to be on the basketball team. Your character education program has inspired not just me but many other students and i just wanted to let you know the character education your school taught me I have passed it on. Jefferson elementary has asked me to help them develop a character education program for the elementary students to help better them as people. I just wanted to say thank you.

Brooks ends his column with this paragraph: “Character development is an idiosyncratic, mysterious process. But if families, communities and the government can envelop lives with attachments and institutions, then that might reduce the alienation and distrust that retards mobility and ruins dreams.” Yes, we do need to get all stakeholders together, but calling character development “idiosyncratic” and “mysterious” doesn’t help. Character education works best when it is intentional and permeates the entire school culture and curriculum. That’s what we see in our Schools of Character, and we hope to keep growing the program so that more schools can be like Smith Street and Community of Peace Academy and more students like Mandy can turnaround.



15 Serious Facts about High School Stress

Contributed by Michele Borba

Every parent and educator must know these troubling facts about our teens. Each fact is a wake-up call, but together they should mean: “Time for Code Red”

This blog was written by the Bachelor’s Degree Online and published with its permission.

One of the greatest lies ever perpetuated about the teen years is that they’re supposedly “the best years of your life.” Ask any high schooler these days how he or she genuinely feels about this statement and the opposite sentiment might very well end up relayed instead.

Every year, more and more pressures regarding classes, getting into the right college (or deciding if college is even the right choice), families, jobs, extracurricular activities, friends, relationships, and other stimuli just keep burbling away beneath their still-developing forms.

Suffice it to say, this avalanche of stress hinders their progress and personalities far more than it helps, but many think they have no real alternative. Without persistently striving toward an unattainable perfection, students find themselves trapped between success or failure, with no “gray areas” in between.

And the situation worsens every year, although there are plenty of things administrators, teachers, parents, and even the teens themselves can to do promote calmness and balance. Before that, though, they should understand exactly what’s at stake when it comes to stress and anxiety in the high school classroom.

1. Most high school students consider cheating OK: According to a CNN poll of 4,500 high schoolers, around 75% engage in “serious cheating,” over half plagiarize directly from the Internet, and about 50% believe that copying answers doesn’t even count as cheating. Such questionable ethics apparently stem directly from absurd competition, since grades mean the difference between getting into a dream school and a backup. To alleviate the mounting stress to constantly perform at the highest level, students turn toward cheating and compromising their own education as a solution.

2. One in five teens qualifies as clinically depressed: According to Mental Health America’s estimates, 20% of teens are clinically depressed, and the real tragedy lies with how their parents and teachers approach the subject. Because so many dismiss the symptoms of depression as mere adolescent adjustments, a disconcerting number of these teens go without the treatment they need to enjoy a healthy, happy life.

Obviously, depression stems from numerous factors beyond just heightened academic pressures. But they certainly render already painful situations even worse, regardless of whether or not they exist as the root cause.

3. Stress ups the suicide rate…: Over in the UK, Oakgrove head teacher John Harkin told The Guardian that anywhere between 600 to 800 students between the ages of 15 and 24 commit suicide annually. A poll of 804 teachers revealed that 73% considered school (and life in general) far more stressful for students than in the previous decade, which more than likely contributes to the climbing suicide rate. Eighty-nine percent believed high-stakes classroom assignments and exams played a major (if not the premiere) role in nurturing anxiety.

4. …oh, and self-harm, too: Beyond suicide, though, British students also cause self-harm in greater numbers than before, correlating with the increase in school and other life pressures. As reported by The Guardian, 46% of polled teachers claimed they knew of kids in middle and high school harming themselves. Cutting seems to be the most popular trend beneath this tragic umbrella, although anorexia — which, by the way, has little to do with simply wanting to “be skinny” — and other eating disorders appear on the rise as well.

5. The same thing happens in the U.S., too: The problem of depression, anxiety and suicide transcends nationality, and The Almanac printed statistics from the National Institutes of Health and its study on random San Francisco students. Although obviously not indicative of the whole nation’s risk, it did highlight the relationship between stress and mental health taxing the youth. A staggering 30% of the city’s high schoolers suffered beneath a suicide risk, and one institution in particular (Menlo-Atherton High School) saw 40 teens forced to go under behavior monitoring within a year.

6. Some schools have purged the AP Program altogether…: Despite the prestige heaped onto offering Advanced Placement classes and harboring students who get stellar scores on the affiliated exams, some schools have decided to forgo them completely. These college-level courses taught in high school require a heftier workload than their level and honors counterparts, and institutions like Beaver Country Day School in Massachusetts don’t think the inflated stress is worth the emotional and physiological toll. So they’ve obliterated the program, which they claim has no impact whatsoever on graduates’ eventual college acceptance and success.

7. …and managed to implement some successful alternatives, too: Along with jettisoning the AP Program, some schools — like the aforementioned Beaver Country Day School — have decided to implement other measures to keep students from succumbing to stress. More low-key assignments, like shooting videos or writing songs, prove just as effective as more rote, lecture-based methods used in traditional classrooms. Other strategies include weekends with no homework assigned, improved communication between teachers so major exams don’t correspond with those in other classes, and longer study and recreation periods. Once again, the school reports that these strategies improve the quality of life for their students without compromising their academic performance or potential.

8. And the teachers on the front lines could be doing better as well: Regardless of whether or not they work in a school experimenting with more stress-reduction methods, teachers themselves could generally do better when nurturing mentally and emotionally healthy students, especially those teachers with Advanced Placement kiddos under their care. Menlo-Atherton High School math teacher Jerry Brodkey practices empathy in his classroom, tailoring his workloads to maximize education while minimizing anxiety. Such a simple concept and awareness of his students’ lives beyond his calculus and algebra classes resulted in improved scores once AP Exam time rolled around. Not to mention some seriously positive teacher evaluations mentioning how the relaxed atmosphere better facilitated learning and information retention.

9. It starts much earlier than high school: Increased college competition means increased high school competition. Increased high school competition means increased middle school competition. Increased middle school competition means increased elementary school competition. Once students get to the last four compulsory grades, the pressure to constantly excel and perform has already been shoved into their growing bodies. So when kids do succumb to the pressures, chances are they may very well have been lurking beneath the surface long before freshman year.

10. Female students feel it harder than their male peers: A survey conducted by the Associated Press and MTV discovered that of the 85% of students claiming they experienced “stress at least sometimes” (if not more than that), most were female. Forty-five percent reported they felt it “frequently,” compared to 32% of their male colleagues. Most disconcertingly, the trend seemed to reflect an increase in stress and anxiety levels when compared to surveys from the year before — at least 10 points higher, says MSNBC. Interestingly enough, students hailing from mid-range income families experienced far more pressure than those from low- or high-income ones.

11. Girls are more likely to suppress their stress: Not only are female students more likely to experience hefty amounts of stress, they also typically handle it more discreetly than males. However, the boys don’t always handle it healthily, either — according to Dr. Roni Cohen-Sandler, they typically react to the anxieties by dropping out mentally. Social pressures push girls towards constant perfection in school, extra-curriculars, appearances, relationships and friendships without ever growing ragged or showing signs of exhaustion (what sociologist Michael Kimmel refers to as “effortlessly perfect”). In fact, 55% told the psychologist they place almost unnecessary amounts of stress on themselves to maintain society’s near-impossible expectations of flawlessness.

12. School ranks as the highest stressor in high school students’ lives: For both females and males between the ages of 13 and 17, school stood as their primary conduit of super stress. Once they hit the 18-to-25-year-old demographic, work supplants academics. But high schoolers face down more anxieties than that, including (but not limited to) bullying, broken homes, substance abuse (or the temptation towards substance abuse), relationships and sex, jobs, extracurricular activities, appearances and more. Girls and young women in particular find themselves petrified for safety reasons at a higher rate than their male counterparts, as they’re more likely to be the victims of rape and sexual assault.

13. GPAs are increasing: In California, at least, where state schools saw a significant rise in the GPAs of incoming freshman between 2003 and 2009.’s Colleen Rustad noted that UC Davis transitioned from a 3.86 to a 4.0 average, and Berkeley witnessed an increase from 3.58 to 3.61. So while some modicum of positivity can be squeezed out of the overworked teenagers’ plight, the serious mental and physical health tolls often render them a rather Pyrrhic victory instead.

14. Parents can exacerbate the situation…: Even the most well-meaning, loving moms and dads (or grandparents or aunts or uncles or legal guardians) run the risk of contributing to Little Junior or Muffy’s ever-mounting anxiety. Although parents and guardians should encourage and support their kids’ academic and (within reason) personal goals, they should stay alert for signs of burnout as well. Success (ethically earned, of course) is always great, but should never take precedence over the health, safety and overall well-being of a student, either. The likelihood of entering an Ivy League university even with a perfect record sits between 7% and 18%, and there’s no shame in pointing kids toward more affordable — and still thoroughly viable — options requiring less strenuous high schooling.

15. …but they’re also key in making it better: Dr. Cohen-Sandler’s research revealed that less than 50% of the most stressed-out female students believed their parents and guardians didn’t notice the mental and physical cracks forming. Along with “less stress” and “more sleep,” the primary thing this demographic desires is more communication and support from parents and guardians. They believe bouncing their feelings off a more experienced individual who knows them well will prove game-changing in better managing their time, emotions, friendships, and other messy hallmarks of being a teen. In addition, tighter-knit, more genuine social circles and the eradication of “mean girls” will considerably help ease the transition into adulthood.


38 Parenting Practices That Build Moral Intelligence

Contributed by Michele Borba

REALITY CHECK: The family is the first school of virtue.

Kids don't learn kindness from a textbook.Even in our increasingly toxic culture, parents can still have the inside track in their children’s development because parents are their children’s first and most important moral teachers. That premise only applies, though, if parents choose to use their moral influence.

Remember, children do not acquire strong character in one-time lectures, but in daily teachable moments. So take advantage of everyday moments to stretch your child’s character and there are dozens!

“You have a new friend in your classroom. How do you think he feels not knowing
anyone? What could you do to help him feel less lonely?”

“Listen to the lyrics on that CD. Do you want others to think girls should be talked
about and treated that way?”

“Was that helpful or hurtful? In our home we only do things that will build people
up – not tear them down. What will you do to make amends to your friend?”

Here are a few practices from my book, Building Moral Intelligence, that make a difference in raising moral kids.  Find ways to use these moral-building principles in everyday moments with your children.

38 Parenting Practices That Nurture Moral Intelligence

  • To teach kids empathy, you must show kids empathy.
  • Show the impact empathy has on others so your child understands it’s important.
  • If you want your child to feel for others, demand your child to feel for others.
  • Provide opportunities for your child to experience different perspectives and views.
  • Experiencing different perspectives helps children be able to empathize with others’ needs and views.
  • Be sure your behaviors your kids watch are ones that you want them to copy.
  • If you want your child to act morally, then expect moral behaviors from her.
  • Talk about moral issues as they come up, so your child can hear your moral beliefs.
  • Plainly explain your concerns to your child, set standards, and then stick to them.
  • Catch your child acting morally by describing what she did right and why you
    appreciate it.
  • To teach kids self-control, you must show kids self-control, so be a living
    example of self-control.
  • Refrain from always giving tangible rewards for your child’s efforts so she develops her own internal reward system.
  • Your home is the best place for your child to learn how deal with stressful
    situations. Don’t rob him of the opportunity to learn how.
  • Gradually stretch your child’s ability to control his impulses and learn to wait.
  • Treat children respectfully so that they feel respected and are therefore more likely to treat others respectfully.
  • Tune up your child’s social graces and make courtesy a priority in your home.
  • Do not tolerate any form of back-talk or rudeness. Stop it before it spreads.
  • Supervise your child’s media consumption closely. Set clear family standards, and then stick to them!
  • Explain your moral standards to the other adults in your child’s life so you can work together.
  • Make sure you are a positive, affirming role model and surround your child with
    people of high character.
  • Take an active stand against cruelty and just plain do not allow it.
  • Take time to tell and show kids how to be kind – never assume they have that
  • Kids don’t learn how to be kind from a textbook, but from doing kind deeds.
  • Encourage your child to lend a hand so he or she will understand the power of “doing good.”
  • The best way to teach kids any virtue is not through our lectures but through our
  • Become the living textbook of morality that you want your child to copy.
  • Teach your child from the time he is very young that no one is better than any other person.
  • Refuse to allow discriminatory remarks of any kind in your presence.
  • Get in touch with your own prejudices and be willing to change them so your child
    won’t learn them from you.
  • Nurture in your child a sense of pride in her culture, heritage, and identity.
  • Expose your child early to games, literature, and toys that represent a wide range of multicultural groups to boost her or his appreciation and acceptance for
  • Encourage your child to participate in activities which promote diversity and nurture tolerance.
  • If you want your child to be fair, expect your child to be fair.
  • The easiest way to increase fairness is by reinforcing fair behaviors.
  • Encourage your child when he encounters unfair treatment to stand up for himself and the rights of others.
  • Look for opportunities in your neighborhood or community and get involved together in making the world a better place.
  • Emphasize acting fairly and good sportsmanship both on and off the field.
  • There is no more powerful way to boost kids’ moral intelligence than to get them
    personally involved in an issue of injustice and then encourage them to take a
    stand; they will learn that they can make a difference in the world.

There is no rewind button on parenting, so be intentional when it comes to building
your child’s character. Parents who raise good kids don’t do so by accident!