As I contemplate my retirement at the end of this month, I have been reflecting a lot about Character.org and the state of character today. As an organization, we have much to celebrate. Some notable numbers:
- Largest group of National Schools of Character in our 2016 class
- Significant growth in applicants for 2017 from 28 different states, 12 more than last year
- Most participants ever in our National Forum
- Highest ratings ever for programming–both at the conference and in recent trainings (more than 90% out rated sessions a 4 or 5 out of 5 )
- Recent grants and donations are spurring new momentum and innovations. (Look for a redesigned and improved website in 2017.)
But beyond these statistics and rankings is something even more important, and that is the wonderful community we have become. We are bound together by a shared commitment to invest in the potential of young people so that they become ethical and engaged citizens.
And we work as a team. There are only five full time employees at Character.org, but we have a worldwide reach thanks to you. We have a fantastic network of state coordinators and state affiliate organizations who do so much to promote character development in their local schools. Our network of Schools of Character also mentor and support other schools and educators just getting started on their character journey. And we have a strong network of trainers who help schools understand just what our framework, the 11 Principles of Effective Character Education, actually means in practice. Our worldwide connections continue to grow partly through relationships built at our International Summits. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Our accomplishments in character development depend upon a village of character educators, and I am so glad to have worked with each of you
While there is no way, I could name everyone who has been important to me, let me share just a few stories that typify the meaningful memories that I will take with me from Character.org.
- Every School of Character I visited was special, but I will always remember Sullivan Primary School where I was greeted by a room full of 4, 5, and 6 year olds. No teachers, no adults, just me and the kids. I can still picture their pride as they described their school. But they really surprised me when I asked, “But what if you get in a fight?” They answered, “We either talk it out, work it out or walk it out.” They explained that “talking it out” was trying to find a win/win solution. And “working it out” meant rock, paper, scissors. But if those didn’t work, “walking it out” meant going outside to their playground and walking their peace path. It was a big hopscotch-like diagram. On some squares were core value words like caring for them to think about. Other squares had pictures–like a pretzel. Here they were supposed to get all knotted up and then relax. By the time they finished walking the peace path, they were relaxed and ready to be friends again.
Granted these may be simplistic solutions, but if these 4,5 and 6 year olds can resolve their disputes so peacefully, and so thoughtfully articulate the positives about their school, just think what they will be like if they receive 12 more years of developmentally appropriate character education. I want that for all our youth.
- Other special memories come from the Forum. I have met so many wonderful people over the years and heard many great speakers, but one speech in particular stands out. The keynote speech of students Soeren Palumbo and Danielle Liebl from Special Olympics truly communicated the power that comes from treating students with disabilities not just with respect, but to see their potential and not just their disabilities.
- Probably my best memories will be of all the people I’ve gotten to know and the friendships that I hope will continue. First, there are the advisory councils who have helped me. Our Education Advisory Council, scholars all, have offered to me their wise counsel and practical suggestions. My President’s Advisory Council, who have a wealth of experience, stood ready to help whenever I needed it. And so many individual members of Character.org: the person who has attended every single Forum and taught me more than he could ever know, the authors who shared their new books with me (and I read every one), and the teachers, principals, counselors and superintendents who shared their challenges, offered their suggestions, and just made me feel good about the world of education.
We have much to look forward to, but many challenges and hard work ahead. But I have no doubt that given your commitment to improving the lives and futures of our students, families, and communities through character education that the future of Character.org will be equally awe-inspiring.
I thank you for your incredible support and encouragement over the past nine years. Although I am retiring from “active duty” as Character.org’s CEO in just a few weeks, I will continue to be the cheerleader-in-chief of continuing efforts to build on the foundation we – the dedicated staff in Washington, D.C. and all of you who do much of the heavy lifting in our schools and communities – have laid.
Thank you for the opportunity to work with all of you; I have enjoyed the opportunity to learn and share with you.
Becky Sipos has worked at Character.org for the last nine years, becoming President and CEO in 2013.
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