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New Character Education Program Launches

Nick DiPasquale and Chenelle Geoffroy, Physical Education and Health Teachers

St. James' Episcopal School strives to instill in its students an unyielding sense of and passionate dedication to the moral values that underlie our Mission Statement and our Core Beliefs. Efforts in this vein led the school to assemble, last year, a Character Education Committee – a council of faculty members tasked with the design of a formal character development program uniquely tailored to fit the needs of our school community.

Drawing on a variety of reputable sources, the committee undertook two tasks: The first was to understand, through interviews, surveys, and informal focus groups, the values most important to the St. James' community. The second task was to gather data on how our peer schools integrate character development into their own curricula. The committee conducted extensive research into what qualities are intrinsic to the notion of "good character" and thoroughly examined the most effective means by which they can be promoted. Their work took them to dozens of schools in Los Angeles as they studied the possibilities.

With all of this data in hand, and after meticulous analysis of innumerable local and national character development programs, the committee constructed the program we introduced briefly during today's 2015–2016 Opening Ceremony. The committee selected ten character traits – one of which will be focused on each month of the school year. Considerable effort was made to link each value with particularly noteworthy events occurring during the corresponding month. The faculty will take great care to weave each topic into the fabric of the curriculum and the life of the school. The classroom, the playground, Community Gatherings, and chapel services will all serve as platforms for character learning across grade levels; our tools will be books, projects, music, skits, videos, banners, and the myriad other implements our creative faculty will devise.

Below are the ten traits, along with a little about our rationale for where each one falls in the year. We invite you all to join us in celebrating and developing these traits in ourselves, in our students, and in each other.

September – Respect

a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way (Merriam-Webster)

Because it is out of respect for all of God's creation (see our Mission Statement) that the other character traits on this list flow, we begin the year with respect.

October – Honesty

No legacy is so rich as honesty. (William Shakespeare)

Another pillar of strong ethics, honesty is the second trait featured in our Character Education program. Unless we are honest – with ourselves and with those around us – we cannot know truth. 

November – Stewardship and Service

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. (Mahatma Gandhi)

Applicable to so much of life, good stewardship carries with it many shades of meaning, from the care of our environment and natural resources, to our health, to our families, and to our communities. In November, we celebrate Veterans Day and Grandparents and Special Friends Day, opportunities to honor those who have given of themselves in service to their country and their family.

December – Empathy

Humans aren't as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others... So maybe part of our formal education should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were "reading, writing, arithmetic, empathy." (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

The Christmas season brings to mind the joy of family gatherings and shared worship and celebration, but it is also a time when we are called in particular to keep in mind those less fortunate than ourselves. In Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge develops empathy by learning to connect others' experiences to his own emotions and memories, and this empathy drives him to change his ways.

January – Responsibility

A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom. (Bob Dylan)

In January, as we begin a new year and resolve to make it better than the last, we accept the responsibility to continue to improve ourselves, our communities, and our world. We also celebrate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and legacy each January and remember all he did and inspired others to do in the name of freedom, truth, equality, and love.

February – Compassion and Kindness

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope. (Maya Angelou)

February brings Valentine's Day, a reminder not just of romantic love, but the compassion and kindness that define love more broadly. Throughout our lives, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to see in everyone the presence of the divine.

March – Inclusion

I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap. (Ani DeFranco)

Our annual Around-the-World Festival, which happens each March, is the perfect time to highlight inclusion. We strive not merely to tolerate those who are different from us, but truly to include them in our lives and in our communities and to celebrate those differences. In doing so, we are all made so much stronger.

April – Courage

It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. (J.K. Rowling)

It takes courage to be the people we strive to be, courage to stand strong in the face of opposition or temptation, courage to own up to our mistakes, and courage to take on, bold and unafraid, the unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or unknown. And so, in April, we celebrate this trait without which we might not demonstrate our others.

May – Cooperation

No man is an island, / Entire of itself, / Every man is a piece of the continent, / A part of the main. (John Donne)

The month of May is always a busy one at St. James', from art shows to talent shows, to the S.T.E.A.M. Fair, to the spring musical, with a whole lot more in the middle. So in May, we'll take some time to remember that we just can't do it alone, and that without cooperation, we wouldn't get very far at all.

June – Diligence

The expectations of life depend upon diligence; the mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools. (Confucius)

Each June is a time of celebration and culmination as we honor our 6th graders at Commencement and all rejoice in the completion of another academic year. During this time, we will celebrate the diligence it took to arrive here and look back on the long road behind us – and the one just over the horizon.