Academic journal article Journal of Character Education

CROSSROADS: Where Community Meets Character in the Pursuit of Academic Excellence

Academic journal article Journal of Character Education

CROSSROADS: Where Community Meets Character in the Pursuit of Academic Excellence

Article excerpt

This article describes 1 school's model for improvement using the character education framework as a set of instructional practices and professional development activities that fostered a learning community for both adults and children. The 11 Principles of Effective Character Education inspired and guided the school to emphasize the new ABCs of learning (autonomy, belonging, and competency) and transform itself into a full-service school model.

INTRODUCTION

The Thomas Edison School, located in the Village of Port Chester, serves approximately 430 students from kindergarten through fifth grade. It is a Title I school with a population that is predominantly Hispanic (88%), largely minority (94%) and overwhelmingly poor with 80% of its students receiving free or reduced lunch. Although the village is located in Westchester County, New York, an area typically associated with suburban affluence, the school's demographic characteristics more closely resemble those of large urban cities.

In 1997, Edison School began a gradual process of reflection and transformation beginning with the appointment of a new principal, a dramatic shift toward higher learning standards for students and the rigorous testing requirements instituted under No Child Left Behind Act. Edison was faced with many challenges including the need for students to meet the revised testing requirements under the new state standards, and to address the issue of their "readiness" to learn as they walked through the schoolhouse door given that 46% of the student population was considered limited English proficient, that the school had experienced low levels of parental involvement, and that many of Edison families were Hispanic immigrants of undocumented status and therefore, facing a variety of difficulties typically associated with acculturation. Dabbah (2006) explains how many Hispanic parents, who are recent arrivals, allow their own school experiences to shape their views and expectations of public schools in the United States. These views inhibit parents from making their presence felt in schools and from taking an active role in their children's education. As a result, their children's readiness to learn is hindered by such underlying parental beliefs that school personnel know what is best for their children and that undocumented and non-English speaking parents can not participate in an educational system that often appears intimidating to them. It is not surprising then that in 1999, before the implementation of Edison's full-service community school model and character education initiative, only 19% of Edison's fourth graders passed the New York State's English language arts assessment and greater parental involvement was identified as a critical concern.

PLANNING FOR SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT AND ACHIEVING TRANSFORMATIVE CHANGE

As part of Edison's initial planning for school improvement in 1996, an ongoing dialogue was established with parents and members of community-based organizations. As part of this dialogue, in which the multilevels of stress faced by many Edison families was recognized, educational practitioners and social service providers from within the community sought to identify more comprehensive and integrated service delivery models for meeting the social service, physical, and mental health needs of students and their families. A parallel effort was also underway for identifying strategies in which to make the school and classroom environment more inviting and focused on improving the quality of teaching and learning. CEP's (Character Education Partnership, 1996) "Eleven Principles of Effective Character Education" were used as guidelines for planning a comprehensive school improvement initiative with character education as a central theme. These principles became the vehicle by which to transform Edison into a caring and inclusive learning community able to respond to the needs of a diverse student population. …

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