Character Programs Reach Nearly 200,000 Students

Article excerpt

`IT TAKES a whole village to raise a child."

Sanford N. McDonnell didn't invent that phrase, but he spends most of his considerable energy these days persuading others in the community to take it to heart.

In the seven years since he retired as chief executive officer of McDonnell Douglas Corp., he has helped bring character education to 25 school districts, 359 schools and 193,431 students throughout the area. St. Louis now has what may be the broadest based program in the nation to instill ethics in kindergarten through high school children.

It all began when McDonnell took a seminar in professional ethics and found himself lacking. His shortcomings inspired McDonnell to adopt a code of ethics and training program for employees of the aerospace giant.

The next logical step, says McDonnell, was to get involved with area schools to ensure that they were preparing students who were not only academically able but morally responsible as well.

"I felt strongly that we did not want to hire graduates who were brilliant but dishonest or uncaring toward others," he says.

With backing from Civic Progress, he financed the STAR program, offered by the Jefferson Center for Character Education, in 128 St. Louis public schools in 1987. By 1988, in partnership with The Network for Educational Development, he had established PREP (Personal Responsibility Education Process) in seven St. Louis County school districts - Clayton, Ferguson-Florissant, Hazelwood, Lindbergh, Mehlville, Pattonville and University City.

From its inception, PREP has stressed a collaborative effort whereby each school community devises an individual approach to character education.

"PREP does not promote one set of values, but it gives schools a process that lets them rediscover their own values and reinforce them," says McDonnell.

That's why Pattonville, for example, stresses 20 character traits each year, with staff training and K-12 activities overseen by its RECCing Crew (Responsibility Education Curriculum Committee).

Meanwhile, Webster Groves, a late-comer to PREP, focuses on just four virtues - respect, responsibility, honesty and cooperation.

More than 40 local foundations, businesses and individuals have contributed to PREP.

According to local educators, the money devoted to character education is beginning to pay off in tangible ways.

At Sherman Elementary Community Education Center in the city's Shaw neighborhood, principal Juanita Doggett looks at improved conduct (last year, there were only three referrals for bad bus behavior), an average 94 percent student attendance rate and rising academic achievement scores as proof that the school's program is having a positive impact. …