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Character Education Plan Shaping Up for Fall

Juvenile violence. Schoolyard shootings. National concern about tragedies like Columbine. Kids without a moral compass, who don't know right from wrong. Recognition of growing national concern about students' values and the need to build character at school has motivated the Long Beach Unified School District to develop a character education plan. It will be implemented this fall for all students in the district--from preschool through high school. "We've got to get to the fundamentals of right and wrong if we want to reduce the likelihood of a Columbine High School-type incident happening here in our schools," wrote Dr. Carl Cohn in an op-ed piece in the Press-Telegram on April 25, 1999. A year later at this week's regular meeting, the Board of Education heard a report on steps being taken to involve parents, students, staff and the faith community in an ambitious districtwide Character Education Plan. "Adults must take responsibility for training our children to behave in an ethical manner creating productive citizens of society," said Laurie Shaw, director, private sector initiatives/charter schools. "The consciences of children are influenced by those around them," she said. "When a positive classroom, school and community climate is created, increased student self-esteem results in improved school safety and student achievement. To accomplish this result, all adults must model and teach these basic human behaviors." According to Dr. Cohn, the so-called youth crisis will abate "when all adults stand shoulder to shoulder in a concerted effort to make sure that all of our kids understand the difference between right and wrong and take the pledge to act accordingly in their treatment of others." The Task Force has agreed that a character education curriculum must be based on the widely shared core ethical values of caring, respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, fairness/integrity and citizenship. "All children and adults must understand, value and act upon these core ethical values which transcend religious and cultural differences," said Shaw. "The entire school community of children, teachers, administrators, parents and staff must practice as well as teach these behaviors in a systematic manner. Doing so will make them an integral part of everyday life, resulting in a deep commitment to living according to these values. These traits become the basis of human relations at the school and are consistently publicly celebrated." The character education program will contain classroom, school, district, professional development and parent components. This summer a committee will convene to delineate the specific details of these components.