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February 2000

Purdue helps teachers incorporate character education

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – As a nation perplexed by school violence turns to its teachers for help, the teachers are turning to universities for guidance.

Many, such as Purdue University, are responding.

Lynn R. Nelson, director of Purdue's Ackerman Center for Democratic Citizenship, says the Ackerman Summer Institute offers a seminar on developing and implementing character education that is available at no cost to teachers and educators across the nation.

"Concern about school violence continues to grow, and so does the trend toward establishing character education in the classroom," Nelson says. "Part of what we offer includes a seminar with practical ideas on civic responsibility. Some of the programs we suggest can be short-term, such as a story with a moral or helping with a food drive, and others can take several weeks, such as a plan to keep a park clean over a semester."

Some schools already are implementing such programs. For example, more than 100 fourth- through ninth-grade teachers, graduates of the summer seminar over the past five years, incorporated projects that teach students how to get actively involved in their communities.

Lisa Hastey Shirley, a seventh-grade teacher at Floyd Middle School in Mableton, Ga., is a 1997 graduate of the program.

"It's the best thing I've ever been to as a teacher, and it really did change the way I teach," she says. "I focus on the seven values of democracy: truth, justice, diversity, individual rights, the common good, patriotism and equality of opportunity. It's my 'Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges' program. One aspect of it is to compare and contrast what Mahatma Gandhi did in India with what Martin Luther King Jr. did in America. Through that we focus on values."

Diane Neal, a third-grade teacher at Woodrow Wilson School in New Brunswick, N.J., graduated from the program in 1997 and then returned to the summer institute two years later to direct a program.

"The Ackerman Center gave me wings, and I've been able to soar as a teacher. My program is 'Be a Good Citizen and Reach Globally,' and I structure the program around three themes: developing a community of learners, learning democratic values and giving community service," says Neal. "I just returned from Japan, and the trip strengthened my belief that character education really is a worldwide concern. We really do live in a global community, and that's what I stress in my classroom."

Neal designed a quilt about her trip that she uses in her classroom to help instill an interest and awareness in universal morals and values.

Other ways for elementary students to develop character include keeping journals on ways to help others, reading stories about inspiring individuals such as Mother Teresa or Colin Powell, or collecting canned food for the community food pantry.

Students at secondary levels can improve their civic awareness by volunteering in local food pantries, shoveling snow from the driveway of an elderly person, making a commitment to keep a highway clear of litter, or planting trees after a heavy wind or ice storm.

Nelson notes specific guidelines to create a character education program are to:

• Challenge students to identify problems in a community.

• Gather information on the issue, and examine possible solutions.

• Commit to a specific solution and a policy for change.

• Create teams of volunteers to put the plan into action.

• Evaluate the project at its conclusion and suggest further improvements or establish long-term policies for the project.

Teachers interested in implementing such programs or in the 2000 Ackerman Summer Institute can receive more detailed information by contacting the Ackerman Center at (765) 494-4755 or visiting the Web site at http://www.soe.purdue.edu/ackerman/. Teachers who complete the program receive a $500 grant to establish character education programs in their classroom.

Funding for the institute comes from The James F. Ackerman Center for Democratic Citizenship. The center was established in 1993 with a $2 million gift from James and Lois Ackerman of Indianapolis. Ackerman, who earned a bachelor's degree from Purdue's School of Agriculture in 1947, designated that the funds be used for the advancement of civics, ethics and economics in classrooms across the nation.

Source: Lynn R. Nelson, (765) 494-2372, lrnelson@purdue.edu

Writer: Cynthia Sequin, (765) 494-2073; csequin@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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