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Character Development in the Upper Canada District School Board
The early days of Character Development in the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) began in 2003 as an initiative to stop bullying in schools. By March of 2004, recognizing the need for more community input, Upper Canada District School Board hosted its first Town Hall meeting, lead by the director, David K. Thomas, and Gina Camerano, Principal of Character Education. The purpose of the evening was to develop an awareness of the community at large as well as to enlist volunteers to be part of fact-finding teams who were to research Character Education. Teams consisting of parents, community partners, federation representatives, municipal members, and clergy were given various tasks to help in their research. Such tasks consisted of: becoming part of a book review committee, visiting school boards who had already begun to address Character Education, and attending conferences with keynote speakers and workshops.
At a second Town Hall meeting the fact-finding teams shared their research, and certain common themes emerged. From this discussion there was derived a list of twenty positive traits which encompass the idea of character. In the months that followed, parents, teachers, students, community members, and all UCDSB staff were asked to vote on the most important of these virtues. What arose was the ‘Character Always!’ initiative which was based on the eight virtues valued most by our school communities: caring, fairness, honesty, empathy, responsibility, perseverance, respect, and resilience.
In the fall and winter of 2005, David Thomas and Gina Camerano visited schools to share the vision of the ‘Character Always!’ initiative, and they invited community partners to become character partners with their schools. For example, local police forces were invited to work with elementary students as part of their existing VIP (Values, Influences and Peers) Program. That same year, Gina lead teams of passionate and knowledgeable UCDSB educators to develop subject-based curricula in both elementary and secondary areas which integrated the eight virtues and focussed on identifying “teachable moments” within their subject areas. The developed curriculum binders were made available to all staff from Kindergarten to Grade12 during the fall and spring of the 2005-2006 school year.
Our Board’s trustees wished to show their recognition and support of this important initiative. They created the “Trustees’ Character Always Award”, which is conferred yearly in every UCDSB school upon the graduating student who most demonstrates character in his/her daily living.
The UCDSB is currently building upon the foundation thus laid. In order to assist the Board in its data-driven decision making, six comprehensive character surveys were created. Staff, students, parents and community members complete an on-line survey which offers an objective measure of success of the Board’s Character Development program. Results are shared with all schools so that they may incorporate specific character development strategies into their School Success Plans. This year, a corresponding integrated character development curriculum was written for French language core, extended and immersion programs.
Student Leadership is another aspect of UCDSB’s ongoing commitment to character development. Grade 7 students across the board are invited to participate in Camp Iawah, a leadership camp which focuses on leadership and problem-solving skills, communication, and innovation. Also, high school students, through the initiative of the Student Senate, participate in many service learning opportunities (local and abroad) that support better citizenship. The Student Senate also writes a newspaper, entitled, “Student Voice” which is shared among all high school students, staff, and trustees. Since 2003, our yearly Global Symposium links schools with their local and distant communities by bringing together students, educators, community partners, and international organizations through workshops, displays and keynote addresses.
Character Development will continue to be a common thread in the fabric of the Board’s Strategic Plan. This year, our Board hosted the student film festival Real to Reel, a Cannes-type gala which showcased films, produced by students, each featuring a character theme. A DVD, a compilation of all the films, was distributed to all UCDSB schools. The board also supports environmental responsibility through Eco Schools training and certification. In addition, the “Character in our Community” committee, with the input of many different stakeholders, wrote and released the Living Credo, which describes the responsibilities of all UCDSB employees to students, staff, parents, communities and the environment. The Living Credo provides the framework from which all crucial decisions are measured against. The board will soon be releasing a book, entitled “Stories of Character”; a compilation of character-filled stories written by students, teachers, principals, parents and trustees. This publication will depict real life events where students or staff members, when faced with adversity or challenges, choose character!
The next few years will provide the feedback needed to weigh the successes and shortcomings in our character development initiatives. It is our sincere hope that we may have sufficient insight into our past, and innovation in our future endeavours, to help students to reach academic growth while simultaneously assisting them in becoming engaged citizens both in their schools and in their communities.