Oklahoma Schools Increasingly Embrace Character Education

Madison Tomlinson, director of character education with the Muskogee Pubic Schools, says it is time for education to take a broader view of issues behind substance abuse. He said he was not surprised several years ago when Muskogee Public Schools officials asked him to lead the district’s initiative in alcohol and drug abuse prevention. A former biology teacher at Muskogee High School. Tomlinson was willing to again take up the cause of fighting substance abuse —but with the caveat that “it will be under the character education umbrella.” 

Character education works to develop the sort of core values — integrity, honesty, compassion and grit — that transcend the classroom to help build happy, productive lives. In 2005 with House Bill 1704, character education or K-12 along with an initial grant for character education. “We determined that we needed to look at our school culture based on the lens of character evelopment,” Tomlinson said. 

Among the biggest cheerleaders of character education is the Oklahoma State Department of Education. OSDE staff works to provide resources and assistance to districts pursuing character education. “More and more schools across Oklahoma are recognizing the meaningful and enduring benefits of character education,” said Sonia Johnson, OSDE’s director of 21st Century Community Learning Centers. “It is exciting to see interest in it spread, particularly during a time in which we see young people dealing with revolutionary social challenges —from texting to Facebook and Twitter —that previous generations couldn’t have imagined.” 

For many years, Edmond’s Character Council has provided Character First training for the Edmond School District’s elementary school teachers. A new program, called Engage, embeds the Character First qualities into an anti-bullying curriculum. About 30 teachers attended the 4-hour seminar at First Presbyterian Church under the leadership of the author of the book “ENGAGE An Active Response to Bullying,” by Edmond resident Virginia Smith. “We have had character education programs in the hope to build character in our district schools,” said Tara Fair, district associate superintendent of educational services, “like Great Expectations and Rachel’s Challenge.” Fair said this is the first time the district has been offered a curriculum to follow in the classrooms. 

Under Tomlinson’s leadership, Muskogee High School was designated a State School of Character (SSOC) by the Character Education Partnership, now named Character.org. Muskogee currently boasts two State Schools of Character: Sadler Arts Academy and Rougher Alternative Academy. Hilldale Middle School, located in Muskogee but part of Hilldale Public Schools, is also a SSOC. Tomlinson moved quickly to transform the culture of schools in the district. “Character clubs” sprang up in the elementary schools, while “character camps” over the summer helped carry on the importance of character education. Tomlinson recalled getting particularly inspired at a 2009 character education forum in Washington, D.C. “Even though we’d done things with character clubs in schools, it had
not been embedded in our culture as a whole,” Tomlinson said. Experts say the most effective character education is integrated into a curriculum. By way of example, Tomlinson points to high school instruction about the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. That invariably leads to discussion about determination, resilience and faith — character traits that were critical in Oklahoma’s eventual healing. Similarly, Muskogee students read about the Holocaust, which spurs an array of worthwhile topics. “Why were the concentration camps detrimental to mankind? What human virtues existed in those individuals who were survivors?” Tomlinson said. “You build those things into the curriculum.” Muskogee schools’ comprehensive approach to character education has had positive results. Tomlinson said test scores are up and attendance figures have improved. Disciplinary issues have declined.


Character Council of Edmond Partners with Character First to Provide Teacher Training

Click on the following link for the article that appeared in the Edmond Sun.


Character Training Fall 2014

Sixteen educators representing both public and private schools in Edmond attended the Elementary School Character training provided by the Character Council of Edmond on September 24, 2014. The Character Council in cooperation with Character First! supplied resources for teachers to bring character training to their students for the coming year. 

The teachers expressed their excitement over the curriculum and look forward to presenting the character traits to their students using the fun activities. One of the teachers said, “I love the Magnifying Glass activity [in the Attentiveness resource].” Another teacher, citing an already busy school day, expressed her enthusiasm that the material could be adapted to short bites of time. Others liked that the character training is positive and proactive. 

Dave, one of the administrators attending the training and who already has been using character training at his school, encouraged other attendees with the benefits and simplicity of focusing on developing character in his students. He keeps a card with all the character traits listed in his pocket. When he observes a student exhibiting one of the character traits, he pulls out the card and reads the description of the character trait he saw and commends the student. It is positive reinforcement, but the student also sees how important it is developing good character. 

Character Counts In Edmond

Edmond Life & Leisure September 26, 2013

When I watch those shows on television news that pay people cash money for being a good person, it makes me uncomfortable. I am more uncomfortable for them than anything else. Do folks that really believe in helping others want or expect a cash payment? I just don’t think so folks. I guess it would make me feel better if they donated the cash to a charity of that person’s choice instead of just handing them a handful of cash right in front of the television camera. I also wonder what message that sends to kids.  Character does count however and there is a group of folks here in Edmond that take time to recognize it. They also do it in a way that honors that individual without the inclusion of being self-serving for their organization. The intent is to recognize the sacrifice without trying to increase viewership or circulation.

I’m referring to The Character Council of Edmond. They have a mission: getting people to do the right thing.  The Edmond group believes the “character of a nation can only be strengthened one person at a time, one community at a time.”  The group is annually awarded a small amount of funding by the City of Edmond City Council through the Edmond social agency funding. Our City of Edmond leadership has a terrific history of supporting programs that recognize and develop good character in our town. This support has transcended a number of elected officials. They might disagree on a number of issues but they have been united in support of The Character Council of Edmond.

The president of the group, Jim Hulsey, believes the Champions of Character recognition given to local residents nearly every month by the Character Council is probably the most visible work the group does. Retired from nearly three decades of television broadcast experience, as photographer, production assistant, freelance journalist and an occasional newspaper editorialist, Hulsey has called Edmond “home” periodically since 1946. He served as the president of the Edmond Neighborhood Alliance and as a council member to the Edmond YMCA and participated in a variety of committees over the years to improve the community. Hulsey is a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

The Champions of Character award is based on one of the 49 character traits established in the 1990s in a program known as Character First. That was begun by then Kimray executive Tom Hill, who worked to improve productivity and reduce workers' compensation claims for the Oklahoma City based manufacturer. In less than two years, the company reported profits were up 25 percent and workers' comp claims were down 80 percent.

The group needs your help with the Champions of Character award each month. The character trait is announced each month on their web site and in Edmond Life & Leisure. We have pledged to help the group in announcing what that trait is for the month. We need our readers to help with nominating people in our community that exemplify that month’s character trait. You can nominate someone by going to www.edmondcharacter.org/nominate. Edmond is full of folks with great character traits and we just need you to help us recognize them.

Supported in a July 2001 city resolution by Mayor Saundra Naifeh, designating Edmond as a “City of Character,” a board of directors was established to bring the character message to Edmond. The Council is now a 501c3 not-for-profit grassroots organization incorporated by the State of Oklahoma since July 2003, and in 2004 was recognized for its exempt status under the Internal Revenue Service Code.  The council is a local Edmond agency made up entirely by volunteers from different career areas whose focus is reserved for the Edmond area alone.  The character council also helps out on school campuses, where leaders want students to avoid negative behaviors such as bullying, tardiness, cheating and disrespect for teachers.

Since 2003, the Council’s primary initiative has been to sponsor character-based education to area schools, the first being Central Middle School, where 15 educators received the training at no cost to the school. Since that time, additional area schools expressed their desire to receive the training. The character based education training is now open to each Edmond area school, elementary, secondary, high school, both public and private.  They have also made allowances for parent volunteers at these schools to receive the training. The training fee, materials, a lunch and compensation for any substitute teachers that may be required while educators attend the half-day training, are paid for. The only investment from the educators is their time. Traditionally, they have held these trainings in September, but as of 2011 moved the date to sometime in November.

Here is what some of the over 400 area educators that have participated in the trainings since 2003 have to say:
“We need this in our schools! By-and-large, kids aren’t getting this from home.”
“The materials are great. It was very organized and will be useful to staff.”
“The character traits will give enrichment to what I am doing now.”
“Getting to the heart of the child is the heart of education. These issues of character deal with the heart. When a heart is changed for the right reasons, they are more successful in life.”
“The character qualities put the responsibility of self-management into the hands of students. I will have more time to work with students when less time is used for discipline.”
“This information is fundamental for all education. It will have impact in every area of the classroom and educational setting. It will carry over into the home life, social activities, and world view. In short, it will affect their character in such a way that it will impact every area of life positively.”
“I went home the day of the presentation and began to teach my own children one of the character qualities.”

If you are a local educator and wish to participate, first check with the principal at your school. If your school is not currently among the participating schools in the Edmond area, please have your principal contact the Character Council of Edmond (www.edmondcharacter.org/contact) and let them know of your interest.

Reprinted with permission: Ray Hibbard, publisher of Edmond Life & Leisure, may be reached by e-mail at ray@edmondpaper.com

Edmond Public Schools recognize Character Council of Edmond as Community Partner

Shown are Council board members (left to right) Tara Fair, Jim Hulsey, Diane Krakowski and Lee Ann Kuhlman.

Edmond Public Schools recognized the Character Council of Edmond as a Community Partner at its (2012) Nov. board of education meeting. Among the many ways the Council helps the district is by offering a half day of character education training every fall that is free to educators and parent volunteers who assist with their local school’s character development initiative. The Council picks up the cost for the training fees, materials and lunch.

“Character development plays such an important role in education and especially these days when we are trying very hard to instill in our students values and traits that contribute not just to their academic success but also to their emotional and physical well-being. Past recipients have included the Fine Arts Academy of Edmond, UCO, Mercy and the City of Edmond.”

Former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recognized for his endurance.

Mayor O’Neil, Janet & Mike Huckabee, and Gerald Coury

Mayor O’Neil, Janet & Mike Huckabee, and Gerald Coury

During a recent (22 November, 2008) book tour visit to Best of Books in Edmond to promote his latest book, “Do the right thing,” former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was presented a character certificate for the character quality of endurance, by Character Council of Edmond representative Gerald Coury and Edmond Mayor Dan O’Neil. Coury presented the former governor with the character certificate noting that Huckabee demonstrated this quality “... from his days as governor of Arkansas, through his campaign for president, and now with his own television show and book tour.”

Coury also noted that when someone stands for proven principles, like Huckabee, that there will always be opposition and stress, adding that Governor Huckabee endured and is a good example for all of us to follow, to “Do the right thing.”

Huckabee responded that this was an excellent quality to recognize him for, as he was in the process of traveling to fifty-six cities to complete the book tour. He sincerely appreciated the warm welcome and recognition, and said that he “loved the City of Edmond,” as he would not have had this type of response even from his home town.

Sources at Edmond’s Best of Books said that the response to Huckabee’s visit was “overwhelming;” that over 500 people attended, and to date they’ve sold nearly 900 copies of Huckabee’s new book.