In a new three-part series, we will be interviewing teachers and administrators from three of the award-winning schools (which are also CHARACTER COUNTS! schools) to discuss their successes in character education, and how they plan to sustain the program.
Today’s interview is with Dr. Raquel Castrodad, Academic Director of Colegio Radians in Cayey, Puerto Rico.
CC!: When and how did your school begin its character education initiative?
Dr. Castrodad: Our journey with character development began in 1977 when our school recognized the importance of integral development (moral, intellectual, ethical, emotional). In 1990 we launched the Socrates Project (our first virtues-based initiative). Then in 2003 we attended the American Camp Association and discovered CHARACTER COUNTS!. We were the first school to bring this program to Puerto Rico.
In 2004, we underwent training and the program was adopted and implemented because it fit our philosophy. With CC!, we were able to develop a structure upon which to work character development. We formed a Committee of CC! which developed activities, agenda, workshops, etc., but we felt we could do more, so students could internalize the traits. In 2007-08, we discovered CEP and attended the 15th Forum of Character Education, becoming familiar with the 11 Principles. In 2010, stakeholders (parents, students, non-academic personnel, and staff) received training by CEP which gave a greater structure and cohesiveness to our character development education. In the summer of 2010, Administrators became facilitators of Virtues Project™. All members of our community received training in the VP. These helped fill the spiritual and emotional aspect of integral development of our Radians virtues-based community. We have all the elements to create and develop those characteristics within our community.
CC!: How has character education changed your students or your school environment? What has the response been from your teachers and students as they learn it?
Dr. Castrodad: The school environment stresses the values and virtues in many ways (e.g., via visual cues as student-created posters that highlight the importance of values and are prominently placed, with student agendas that are printed with the character values). Parents are involved in virtues education, often commenting about the positive changes seen in their children.
The school promotes the concept of Restorative Justice. Students identify virtues that they did not use in a given situation and, based upon these reflections, the students participate in making amends, thereby becoming conscious of the virtues they need to manifest when confronting similar situations in the future.
Elementary school displays a Positive Action Board which recognizes positive student action. Students recognize the values they have displayed and promoted. The school promotes healthy, virtues-based competition via the CC! Pursuing Victory With Honor Program. Everyone is a winner in healthy competition. Students demonstrate greater joy when infused with this perception of competition. Weekly class meetings further strengthen and reinforce the ideas discussed. Our school is very committed to foster the creation of a caring school community. The school works to ensure a clear, open line of communication between staff, students, parents, and auxiliary school employees. Students give feedback via questionnaires, reflections, and verbal communication with school staff.
Students generate a Code of Honor and have created Peer Consulting to mediate certain conflicts between students. Parents are encouraged to attend various Virtues Training Workshops offered by the school at no cost. Attendees have demonstrated appreciation and support for our work in this area.
CC!: What’s been the most challenging aspect of instituting character education?
Dr. Castrodad: One of the most challenging difficulties we confront when trying to establish a caring and virtues-based community is the actual situation of our society where values have been substituted and replaced by personal gratification and where the priorities are no longer the family, the school and the church.
Violence and corruption are the new norm in this new century and those who speak of values and virtues are labeled as “old-fashioned” and “out-of-touch with reality.” Any organization that desires to create integral human beings must include character education as part of their program.
Equally challenging, and probably even more difficult in some institutions, is getting everyone on board with this type of program. If everyone does not support the work whole-heartedly, the program will not bear the fruit it should. This involves a great effort. If everyone is on-board and willing to work the program, everything becomes easier.
As one experiences an awakening of virtues within oneself, one grows to recognize these in others. Radians School accepts the challenge to help each and every member of our community (students, teachers, parents, non-academic personnel, etc.) to recognize the virtues within himself or herself. As one awakens to an awareness of his/her own virtues, they come to recognize these in others, as well. By recognizing our diversity, promoting justice and respect, we are able to achieve a harmonious and peaceful community through achieving unity.
CC!: Can you talk about the process of applying for the National Schools of Character Award? How did you hear about it, and what did the evaluation process entail?
Dr. Castrodad: The process was one of much growth as we were able to see everything we were doing to achieve character development in addition to the excellent and rigorous academic environment here at the school.
The process took much time and dedication. Collecting and organizing all the information required a special committee of teachers, personnel, administration, parents who were committed with demonstrating and quantifying the remarkable work we are doing here.
We have been members of CEP since 2008 and are, therefore, familiar with their work. We have attended their forums as both participants and presenters.
CC!: What qualities do you think made the difference in earning this National School of Character Award?
Dr. Castrodad: Emphasis on the importance of values and virtues in our daily life is a primary aspect of our virtues-based community. Everybody speaks the same language.
Core values are intrinsically woven within the vision and philosophy of the institution. Training in CHARACTER COUNTS!, CEP 11 principles and the Virtues Project, has prepared our staff to understand and promote Character Education into what it is now. Our journey commenced as an initiative and then became part of us. This is our culture, it is not a program; it is a way of life!
When people think about Radians they think of character, security, and excellence in all aspects; academic, effective, cognitive, emotive and caring.
CC!: How do you plan to sustain this success and the program going forward?
Dr. Castrodad: We recognize that the effort expended on this type of endeavor requires constant development and growth. With this in mind, we will offer continuous (on-going) professional development and training for the whole community; modeling and living what we promote!
The administration understands that the development of an “ethics-based community” is an ongoing project and is motivated to provide the resources to further this concept, with the vision of enhancing the wider view and participation, not only the entire academic community, but also the community at large.
We are also prepared to spread and promote character education to other schools in PR, This will be one of our goals for the upcoming academic school year. We believe that through the character development initiative schools could make the difference and will give new “value” to our society.
For more information on how CHARACTER COUNTS! can make a difference at your school or organization, visit here.