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Special School District of St. Louis County
 
Taking the Next Step
in Character Education

It has been said that character is doing what is right when nobody is looking. For students and staff at SSD’s Neuwoehner High School, that statement rings true. But recently, people have taken notice.

In May, Neuwoehner earned the prestigious honor of being named a National School of Character. As one of just 41 schools nationwide earning the title this year, Neuwoehner took part in a rigorous evaluation process to show that character development has been infused into the curriculum and has had a positive impact on academics, student behavior and school climate.

“We started writing the application a year before we completed it,” said Neuwoehner counselor Nancy Richey. “So overall, it was a two-year writing and artifact-compiling process. There were many long nights and weekends working in small rooms and eating lots of junk food.”

Character education supports the social, emotional and ethical development of students. It is a proactive effort to help students develop important core ethical (recognizing what’s right) and performance (doing what’s right) values such as caring, honesty, responsibility, critical thinking and respect for self and others.

Neuwoehner principal Lorie Arnsman Schwartz said character education has helped fuel more student leadership at her school. As evidence, Monica, a junior, has impressed staff with her tremendous growth in becoming a leader among students.

“Freshman year, I didn’t care about anything,” Monica said. “And now I’ve changed. I’m more mature now with classes, helping others with school work, eating lunch with friends, and on the bus.” She also helped organize and participate in a school-wide Veterans Day assembly to honor those that served in the military.

When she was younger, Monica dealt with being bullied. “But now I don’t get bullied. I can sit with friends at lunch and there isn’t any name calling.” Staff agree this is a direct result of the character education the school has promoted.

“Character education has dramatically affected the students,” Richey said. “We have one student, Louis, that because of character education and the programs that were implemented, went from a shy, reserved student into a true leader in the building working with other students and our new custodian--teaching him the Neuwoehner way.”

Other students have built character skills though volunteering, life skills programs and leadership building—skills that will help them at the next level.

“As a teacher, finding placement for students after graduation is a top priority,” Neuwoehner teacher Susan Moser said. “Character education helps students interact and be more successful at staying in programs and socializing appropriately. It helps them learn the skills they need to be successful after leaving here.”

But earning such national prestige has not caused students or staff to rest on their laurels. In fact, the opposite is taking place, with enthusiasm for improving the school’s initiative taking a step up since winning the award in the spring.

“We’ve built momentum, and we’ve kept that momentum going,” said Neuwoehner occupational therapist Michele Hahn. “We are getting kids to mentor, volunteer and build relationships. We set these things up and they just kept going!”

This fall, five Neuwoehner staff members traveled to Washington, D.C., to officially receive the National School of Character banner, as well as meet and share with other schools and organizations taking part in character-building initiatives.

“We were able to network with other schools and build on how to do more,” said Neuwoehner teacher Michelle Laird, who attended the conference.

As Neuwoehner continues its three-year journey carrying the title of a School of Character, Arnsman Schwartz said they still have much room to grow.

“Character education really blends in well with the District’s continuous classroom improvement initiative,” Arnsman Schwartz said. “We hope to increase community and outside involvement. We have lots of plans to incorporate parents even more into the mix.”

But what is first on Neuwoehner’s to-do list? Deciding on a place to hang its new National School of Character banner.

arrow icon To learn more about Schools of Character, visit www.character.org.

Neuwoehner staff receiving National School of Character banner

Neuwoehner staff members traveled to Washington, D.C., to officially receive the National School of Character banner, as well as meet and share with other schools and organizations taking part in character-building initiatives.


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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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