Sarah E. Williams | 4/19/2005 10:28:38 PM
Having completed its seventh year, Character Counts! is now established in all 64 parishes, reaching more than 350,000 people statewide, according to LSU AgCenter character education leader Sarah Williams.
Conducted through the LSU AgCenter’s 4-H Youth Development Program, character education is "one of our state’s best investments in the future of Louisiana’s youth," Williams says.
"Just as 4-H gives youth in every parish a chance to participate in a wide range of youth-friendly activities and educational opportunities that help them make a successful transition into adulthood, our character education program helps them develop strong character," Williams notes.
The program is based on the Six Pillars of Character developed by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, founder of the Character Counts! coalition. The pillars are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. A seventh lesson is offered on decision making.
Responses to the program indicate that youth are learning that the decisions they make determine their future. Evaluation of character education in Louisiana and other states reveals improvements in student behavior, increases in quality instructional time and improved student performance.
Williams details the number of people affected by the program from the most recent reports available, covering the 2002-03 school year:
• 355,562 people were reached by the program.
• 3,623 adult instructors received training from qualified, trained personnel.
• 3,274 youth were trained to be peer mentors.
• 182,665 students received instruction.
• 49,106 youth received lessons in after-school programs, child-care centers and youth camps; these programs help prevent at-risk behavior of elementary schoolchildren that lead to teen dropouts.
Statistics, however, aren’t the only measures of success. Testimonials are included with the reports. One parent remarked that Character Counts! was "the best thing" for her son, explaining, "He was trained as a 5th grader to be a peer teacher. He was very shy and would never have been able to get in front of a group had it not been for his Character Counts! experience in team teaching."
A fifth grade teacher said, "Character Counts! is a wonderful program that I plan to use with many more children, planting a seed that might help our students have a better and brighter future."
Williams says the success of the program lies in a combination of factors: the diversity of groups served, positive behavioral changes, the number of youth and adults reached, the involvement of large numbers of school personnel and community volunteers, development of needs-specific educational curriculum and materials, diverse community collaborations, support of Louisiana’s governor and legislature; and youth serving as mentors and trainers and youth reaching out to adults.
"For the program to be most effective, communities must embrace the Six Pillar language and become active in supporting what goes on in their schools," Williams says, adding, "This year we hope to involve communities in supporting every part of the Character Counts! initiative.
For related topics, click on the 4-H link at the LSU AgCenter Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com/ or visit the 4-H Web site at www.louisiana4h.org. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.