Lessons in character education

December 14, 2008|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Laurie Namey and Patricia "Brigid" Carmichael have about 40 years experience in education between them.

Their experience in education has taught them that there is a lot more to educating a child than academics.

For starters, children need character education, Namey said.

"Character education is a necessity in our ever-changing, diverse community," said Namey, who is in her first year as assistant principal at Edgewood Middle School. "Schools need to make character education important."

Namey and Carmichael recently got their chance to help other schools and organizations start character-education programs.

In a program that started in the summer of 2007, the two women met with a team of 13 other educators at the state's Department of Education to compile a book to teach school districts how to implement a character-education program. The fruit of their labor is a 122-page book called Character Education by Design, A Blueprint for Successful District and School Initiatives.

The book is divided into three main parts - building a districtwide character-education initiative, starting and sustaining character-education initiatives, and involving parents in character education. Each of the three sections includes principles that are designed to make the process of building a character program simple.

In the first section, school districts are encouraged to create a school plan, appoint a committee to oversee the plan, get parents involved and compile a list of comprehensive character traits and virtues. The second section deals with establishing and implementing the program. The third section covers parent involvement.

Each of the two Harford educators brought specific backgrounds and knowledge to the project.

Namey earned a bachelor of science degree in communications, and a bachelor of arts in secondary education English from Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pa. She earned a master's in urban education from Goucher College.

With more than a decade of experience in education, Namey has worked as a behavior-intervention specialist, an English teacher and now an assistant principal at Edgewood Middle.

In 2003, she helped create a curriculum called Social Connections, a language arts-based character and multi-cultural program that deals with such things as respect, responsibility, bullying, violence prevention and conflict resolution, which was used at Edgewood Middle from 2003 to 2007.

In the book, Namey helped with many principles, including those that pertained to connecting character to the curriculum. In one principle, they used an English lesson where students read a story in which the protagonist has a problem he or she is struggling with, she said.

Through the program, educators ask students if they have ever had a similar experience. And if so, what are some of the ways that they would handle the dilemma or conflict?

"The main point of the book is to fill in gaps for students who don't have a background in respect and tolerance," Namey said.

Namey worked on several portions of the book, including a section that deals with bringing parents into their child's character education.

"We are partners with parents," she said. "It's important to have character education that focuses children on the essence of good relationships. It teaches students how to get along with their friends and their family."

Carmichael, who has about 30 years experience in education, volunteered for the project. She felt she had a diverse background and could offer a different perspective.

After earning a bachelor's degree in elementary education at then-Rosary Hill College in New York, she worked as an adult counselor. In 1978, she earned a master's degree in education at Western Kentucky University, then took a job as an elementary school counselor, work she does now at Joppatowne Elementary.

She said she became involved with the book project because she believes in character education and wanted to help develop principles that would make it possible for any school district to start programs.

The key to a good character education program is keeping it simple, she said.

At Joppatowne, the students participate in a simple program that focuses on the school's three rules - Be Safe, Be Respectful and Be Responsible.

She offered some tips for creating a good character-education program: "[It] has to have people involved who are committed to its success. You have to be willing to walk the talk. You have to maintain a standard of expectation, and you can't let the program sit on its laurels."

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