Breaking down walls at Hinsdale Central High School

In his new book On Purpose: How Great School Cultures Form Strong Character, education expert Samuel Casey Carter examines 12 public and charter schools “where confident children joyfully strive to accomplish worthy goals in concert with their friends.” One thing each school has in common is the focus on creating a culture of character.

Carter specifically applauds Hinsdale Central High School, a CHARACTER COUNTS! school in suburban Chicago. Last week, Carter told the Chicago Sun-Times that the school enjoys “the wonderful outcomes harnessed by an extraordinary school culture committed to student character.”

This isn’t the first time Hinsdale Central’s CC! program has made the news. In 2008, the school was designated a National School of Character by the Character Education Partnership. The award recognized the school for its success in building the character and social/emotional skills of its students and granted it $20,000 to continue the program and train other educators.

What does it mean for Hinsdale to have a culture of character?

Beginning when they arrive for freshman year – and continuing for the next four years, students are trained in Conflict Resolution Skills, Peer Leadership Building, Ethical Thinking, and Internet Safety. This curriculum gives students a solid foundation for effectively responding to conflict, controlling negative impulses, and making ethical decisions.

Throughout the school year, Hinsdale Central hosts several events that help establish a culture of caring. One of these is the annual “3,000 Devils Tolerance Month,” which includes a “Mix It Up Lunch,” in which students are encouraged to sit with someone new, and an “Eliminate Hate” campaign, in which students create videos to combat “hate speech” heard in the halls and cafeteria. Those videos are shown on the monitor by the cafeteria. (Watch a recent video at the bottom of this story.)

Hinsdale Central students organize and host “Walk the Walk for Autism,” which raises student awareness and encourages students to be understanding and caring citizens, and “Leave Your Hate at the Door,” a conference in which different schools present their ideas for building cultural bridges.

There’s also “Break Down the Walls,” an anti-bullying performance created and performed by the 52-student Break Down the Walls club. In addition to performing, club members “step in on their own when they see bullying happening.” This actually happens. When a few Hinsdale Central students sat in on our recent “Bullying Stops Here” webinar, one student said she went over and talked to girls who’d snubbed another girl. She told them it was wrong and got them to change their behavior. Another Break Down the Walls student said she participates in the program because, “once you get to high school, it’s not really cool to be mean anymore. It’s cool to care.”

Other clubs that help create a culture of caring at Hinsdale Central include the Gay/Straight Alliance, Peer Buddies, which joins special ed. and regular ed. students, and Spectrum, which allows autistic students to form friendships with each other and with other students.

Since Hinsdale Central implemented CHARACTER COUNTS! ten years ago, incidents of harassment and intimidation went from 49 in the 1997-98 school year to nine in 2006-07, even as total enrollment increased from 1981 to 2656. Those numbers show just how effective CC! can be in changing the culture of a school.

Watch this video made by Hinsdale Central students:

Anti-Bullying Campaign from Sara Klepacki on Vimeo.

Note to Illinoisans: To recognize the publication of On Purpose, Hinsdale Central Character Counts! will host a  book signing event in the Hinsdale Central Library on December 14, 2010 from 8:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. If you buy a book, it will be signed by all individuals who are quoted within it. In addition, Hinsdale Central Character Counts! will present signed books to the Hinsdale Township High School District 86 Board of Education. This presentation would take place during the January 2011 BoE meeting.

During these events, Hinsdale Central Character Counts! will record video testimonials from students, staff, and others about the value of CC! at Hinsdale Central High School.

Featured image provided courtesy of Charles Banke Photography.

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