2019 National School of Character School of Science and Technology — Advancement explains their character journey and the impact of the 11 Principles of Effective Character on their school.
by Memry Bender and Mert Dilli, School of Science and Technology — Advancement
Our lasting journey towards reaching excellence started just a few years ago. We, as a group of educators, were passionate about opening a new campus in Houston. Our curriculum, resources, and staff were ready for the kick-off day. However, the delivery of the services and school culture expectations were in question. Therefore, we had several brainstorming sessions about making the atmosphere positive for all stakeholders. As a result of our meetings, we came up with some engagement strategies. As Texas Deputy Commissioner of Education A.J. Crabill says: “Student outcomes don’t change until adult behaviors change.” At School of Science and Technology – Advancement (SST-Advancement), we made his statement one of our priorities. In 2016, SST-Advancement opened its door with a small student body and a group of dedicated people who believed that character development was essential to building good citizens and we have led by example therefore to create positive campus climate.
SST-Advancement’s school vision is “nurturing world-class scholars and ethical citizens to build a better future for all.” From the opening of the school, core values were instilled in students, parental involvement was sought, and a sense of ethics was established.
Principal Dilli attended the character.org Conference in Washington, D.C., which fueled his passion for enriching the character development program on his campus. Upon his return from Washington, D.C., Principal Dilli immediately began his plan of action with his character implementation team. They first created a survey for students, staff, parents, and community members to provide input on choosing the campus core values. As a result of the surveys, student, parent, staff, and community feedback, our C.I.R.C.L.E. was born. Citizenship (C), Integrity (I), Responsibility (R), Caring (C), Leadership (L), and Everyone (E) becomes our campus character traits. The character team then held meetings with stakeholders for feedback on all school functions; making sure that they aligned with the 11-principles of character.org.
These implementations have resulted in our strong and positive school culture, which is the driving force for our accomplishments at SST-Advancement. The first year we opened, our numbers were extremely small, but our staff was dedicated to providing students with the academic and social/emotional abilities needed to succeed in the “real world.”
We are a Title I school. 57% African American, 31% Hispanic, and 78 % economically disadvantaged students are highlights of our demographics. Despite our varying demographics and economic challenges, such as sharing a building with a weekend school and high poverty levels, SST-Advancement has proven to be an exemplary school. Ending our first year, we were flourishing in terms of academics; we earned 3 of the 7 state distinctions. Within the second school year, our campus managed to receive 5 of the 7 state distinctions. Our school continues to excel in academics. Last school year 2018-2019, our campus was A-rated by Texas Education Agency (T.E.A.). We also earned all possible 7 of the T.E.A. state distinctions; an accomplishment that we are very proud of. We contribute much of our academic success to character.org 11-principles implementations.
Our character voyage started as a small C.I.R.C.L.E. and became something much more significant. It became the heart and culture of our school. Everything that we did from activities, events, and staff-meetings to daily classroom lessons, character (C.I.R.C.L.E.) was embedded.
The buzz about character and C.I.R.C.L.E., both on and off the campus, was immense. Walking through the halls of the campus, one could hear the teacher’s presenting character lessons and students reminding each other of doing the right thing. Parents provided us with feedback on the changes that they noticed in their child since the initiative began.
“Since the character journey started, I have noticed a positive change in my child’s behavior. My kindergartner struggled with sharing. Since the initiative, my child is now eager to share with everyone and encourages her friends to do the same” – Parent Testimonial
“I am the parent of 3 middle school children who are always bickering and being defiant. I have observed their behavior and noticed that they use a more positive approach when dealing with their sibling quarrels. Just the other day, my younger children were arguing about who would wash the dishes because I had to work late. My oldest stepped in to defuse the situation between the younger siblings, she clearly stated, “this is not the way we act, we just learned about caring and responsibility at school today.”” -Parent Testimonial
Along with academic success, character education has shaped behavior and reduced discipline concerns throughout the campus. The practices and strategies used to incorporate the character initiative have provided the support our school needs to correct undesired behaviors in students. For instance, a first-grade student who displayed difficulties adhering to the structure and procedures of the classroom has shown significant improvements. The student is now eager to follow instructions and procedures. The student exhibits self-motivation and is proud of their self, just as we are.
The goal was to ensure that all participants of the character initiative understood the intrinsic value of having good character. No longer did we want our students, staff, or parents doing good because they were seeking rewards; we wanted them to do good just because it was the moral or ethical thing to do. The implementation of character allowed us to bridge the gap between intrinsic and extrinsic values. As a result of our ongoing efforts since the first day of campus establishment, we were able to transition into a “true” state and national school of character.
One example took place when our 4th-grade students visited the N.A.S.A. Space Center. The staff from N.A.S.A. approached our teachers to praise the excellent behavior of our students. They were very impressed by how the students cleaned up all areas, even areas from other schools’ students, without being told or asked to do so. They praised our students by saying that such kind and positive actions from students had never occurred at their facility. Once again, our students exhibited the positive behaviors that our school culture and character development program has influenced within them.
We have come a very long way in a short period of time. However, the marathon continues with chanting:
“Fly Falcons Fly
Circle for the students
Fly Falcons Fly
Circle for success
Fly Falcons Fly
Better than the rest
Fly Falcons Fly
Circle around the World”