At Character.org we frequently reflect on our mission and our role in the greater landscape of education. In addition to working directly with schools, we strive to serve as “bridge builders” connecting teachers, students and administrators to researchers and policymakers. This aspect of our mission was abundantly clear as I looked around the room at our 2015 National Schools of Character Event the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Wednesday morning.

 

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Our attendees were quite a varied group including elementary school students, high school students, parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, legislative assistants, a representative from the Department of Education and a congresswoman. What did all of these people have in common? They are committed to character.

They came to hear about the dedicated work of the 64 National Schools of Character and 3 National Districts of Character that earned recognition in 2015. Since we didn’t have time to talk about each and every school, President & CEO, Becky Sipos highlighted specific school’s practices that were representative of the whole group’s accomplishments. Throughout the year, we will continue to highlight these practices of our National Schools of Character, but until then these examples help to depict the trends that she noticed.

  1. The 2015 National Schools of Character is the largest group of schools awarded this honor in a single year. There was particularly impressive growth in the success of secondary schools, with 11 Middle Schools and 13 High Schools being recognized.

  1. An increasing number of Schools of Character are reporting high percentages of economically disadvantaged families yet we are seeing impressive improvements in academic performance.

30% of this year’s group have more than 50% of their students on free and reduced lunch. They are showing that demographics are not destiny.  Northern Parkway School in Uniondale, NY, with 75% percent economically disadvantaged, and 23 percent are English Language Learners, has been the highest achieving school for academic growth in the district for the past three years.

  1. There are high populations of English Language Learners but schools are finding ways to adapt to create a truly inclusive community.

The Bayless Junior High School student body is comprised of 40% English Language Learners with 69% eligible for free and reduced lunch. The school got 94% of their parents to attend their student-led conferences this year. They had interpreters—30 different languages.  Their success is notable. Missouri ranks its school districts, and in 2013 the Bayless district was ranked 409th. In 2014 they were ranked 237th, jumping over 172 schools.

  1. Schools are reaching out to build partnerships with families and the local community.

At Coldwater Elementary School, located in Florissant, Missouri, a suburb that borders now infamous Ferguson, the parents created a “Parents for Peace” Facebook page to help kids in Ferguson, a neighboring community, after the racial tensions erupted there.
The school has also established a nice partnership with Trinity Church that helps with schools supplies, mentors and more. A program called Hazelwood Heroes works to engage more churches and community leaders to help the schools and community.

While I wish each and everyone of you could’ve been there, I hope these examples show you just how impressive the 2015 National Schools of Character really are. Clips of Becky’s speech and clips of other speakers, including David Esquith, Director of the Office fo Safe & Healthy Students, and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman will be  on our youtube channel soon. Be sure to take a look!