Dear Lancaster Parents, Family, and Friends...
What does it take to be recognized as a National School of Character?
After a rigorous application process, for which Como Park Elementary received "honorable mention" last year, Principal Molly Marcinelli and school stakeholders identified the steps needed to go to the next level and were recently informed that Character.org, an organization that validates character initiatives in schools around the world, has recognized Como Park as a National School of Character.
Marcinelli noted that Marie Perini, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction, and pupil personnel services, encouraged the application, assuring Marcinelli that "all the pieces were in place" for success.
"Dr. Perini said she felt the character development of students is exemplary at every school in the district, and she thought the application might be something I would be interested in pursuing," Marcinelli said. "Character.org stresses that this is a professional development opportunity more than it is about recognition. I realized that as I went through the process, because when you are evaluating what you are doing and you are providing evidence to support that you embrace the 11 principles that they highlight (see Character.org), you realize where your strengths are and where your gaps are."
The honorable mention achievement included the organization giving feedback on "promising practices." "One of the promising practices that they noted was the Peace Bus. That is in all of our elementary schools, not just Como Park," Marcinelli noted.
According to the Character.org website, character development has had a positive impact on academics, student behavior, and school climate. "These schools become part of a network that serves as models and mentors to other educators," the website said. "To be effective in schools, character education must involve everyone - school staff, parents, students, and community members - and be part of every school day. It must be integrated into the curriculum as well as school culture. When this happens and school communities unite around developing character, schools see amazing results."
"One piece of feedback was to work on our service learning projects," Marcinelli said. "We are fortunate to be a school that exists in a district that values compassion, empathy, and service to community and the less fortunate. Many of our service learning projects, such as the Lancaster Day of Giving and Kindness Week, are districtwide. In addition to written feedback, we received an offer for further staff development, where it was suggested that instead of tackling all character traits, we should try to zone in on our core values."
With the building planning team, Marcinelli decided to work on the application again this year. "In June 2017, the BPT had a conversation about what we hold dear to our hearts. We came up with three core values: respect, responsibility, and perseverance. We felt that respect, in particular, encompasses a lot - kindness, empathy, concern, care, generosity, thoughtfulness, trustworthiness, and honesty; many other character traits fall under the larger umbrella of respect. Regarding responsibility, we are trying to raise contributing citizens and help them to understand their role in the community. Perseverance grew out of a change in our state standards that raised the bar academically. We feel strongly that students can attain these standards but that struggle is a part of learning. Making mistakes is inherent in the learning process. We have to teach students that there is value in it, and they have to metaphorically push up their sleeves and dig deep and work on effort."
The obvious question might be, would the school district ever apply to be recognized as a District of Character? That remains to be seen, but according to our intrepid Mrs. Marcinelli, "all the pieces are in place."
"I can say about our students, between the SWISS organization at the high school, or students working to improve the school setting, the academies, book buddy collaborations between the middle school and the elementary schools, the high school leadership group that performs skits for our students, techsperts, and leadership groups at all of the schools, there is no question the district would qualify. The entire district and community working together one week around the Day of Kindness, with special events like Band Against Bullying, makes it clear that we are doing the right things from kindergarten on up."
On behalf of the Lancaster Central School District, we congratulate Marcinelli and the entire Como Park Elementary school community. As is often the case, they serve as role models to us all.
Michael J. Vallely, Ph.D.