From the Director’s Chair: CC! in Secondary School

Kick-Starting CHARACTER COUNTS! in Secondary Schools: You Can Do It!

This week I visited a high school in Santa Barbara, California, to give them a presentation on CHARACTER COUNTS!. The staff committee I met with at Bishop Garcia Diego High School asked a question I deal with every day: How can we implement CC! in a high school with students who never had the program in elementary or middle school?

While it is true that our program is extremely popular in primary schools (nearly two-thirds of all our members and program users come from that base), it is also true that there are some incredibly successful examples of secondary schools using our program. Some of those middle and high schools are “stand-alone” models, meaning they have no feeder schools using CC!.

Undoubtedly, the best CHARACTER COUNTS! implementations involve a community or district-wide approach. We see countless examples — like Tulare County and the city of Downey in California; Gaithersburg, Maryland; and Hinsdale, Illinois — who have successfully integrated CC! into multiple schools and the community. But there are also schools doing it on their own that have incredible, even nationally recognized, character-driven schools.

So, to my friends at Bishop Garcia Diego High, and to other secondary schools out there ready to take the journey of creating a more positive school culture and climate, let’s take a look at your roadmap for success.

Our first stop is Riverside-Brookfield High School, located near Chicago. Four years ago, a new principal arrived and decided she was going to implement CHARACTER COUNTS!. There was no feeder school using our program, so she launched it using the knowledge she acquired while at another area school. Principal Pam Bylsma trained her staff, worked with her students and after only one-year, every behavioral-related measure showed improvement — from increased attendance to reduced bullying and acts of violence.

Now, Ms. Bylsma is taking on a new district role, but her impact in four years at RBHS will be felt for a long time. Just read this note from a grateful parent to one of the teachers at RBHS:

“I remember like it was yesterday, you giving the tour of Riverside Brookfield for incoming freshman parents. The many, many, many visits to your office regarding my children Eddie and Tricia. I will always remember the Pillars you explained about and how the kids at the school are so important to you. Although it wasn’t a pleasant start for my kids and I, I can honestly say that in the end you and your staff did an outstanding job these past two years for Tricia. Her transformation is truly remarkable and all about what you give every day- TRUSTWORTHINESS, RESPECT, RESPONSIBILITY, FAIRNESS, CARING, CITIZENSHIP. Tricia went from a dark place to exceeding all of our expectations. I’m so proud of her current straight A’s. So with all my heart from my family and me… THANK YOU ALL. I couldn’t be more proud to be a Riverside Brookfield parent of graduating students. Looking forward to seeing you at the graduation.”

I’ll give you a moment to wipe the tears.

We’ll make our next stop in Rock Hill, South Carolina, home of York Preparatory Academy. Two years ago, they sent a team of staff members to a CC! training class. Today this secondary school, on its own, with no area feeder school, has become a CC! Regional Instruction Center, recently hosting a Character Development Seminar on campus for educators from Delaware to Florida who came to learn how York Prep became such a great CC! school. Here are a few words from the school’s teachers about how they implement the program:

Now, let’s head west to Panorama City, California, home of St. Genevieve High School. Fifteen years ago, nobody wanted to go to St. Gen’s. Today it’s recognized as a National School of Character. In the video below, the staff and students describe the transformation. They also did it on their own, taking the framework of the “Six Pillars of Character” and creating a culture that reflected both the Pillars and their own values, unique to the “Valiants” of St. Genevieve.

These are just three examples of successful stand-alone secondary schools using CHARACTER COUNTS!.

Next month, Clayton Valley Charter High School in Concord, California, will take their first step to becoming a CC! school with no feeder school. After we train their staff and some parent leaders on our program, I am confident that by next year at this time, we’ll be talking about them like we do the other great secondary schools highlighted above.

So, if you still think your secondary school can’t change or improve its climate and culture, give me a call. Or better yet, reach out to one of these schools who show it can be done on a daily basis!

Jeff McMurdy is the National Director of CHARACTER COUNTS!. He can be reached at 800-711-2670, ext. 805, or at or on Twitter @jrmc57.