Parents and the rest of the community can find out why Rim country educators are so excited about the Character Counts program at a Parents for Character Workshop from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, April 19, at the Payson High School auditorium.
The purpose of the event is to give the program a broader foundation of support "by getting the entire community speaking the same character language," said Jennifer Baker, a Frontier Elementary School second-grade teacher, and one of the organizers of the workshop. "If the program is going to be effective, the whole community needs to get behind it."
The Character Counts program, which was introduced in September following a three-day workshop attended by 32 local teachers and parents, is designed to reduce youth violence,
crime, teen pregnancy, sexually-transmitted diseases and anti-social conduct. An education initiative put forward by Gov. Jane Hull, it is based on similar programs around the nation that teach and model core character values that are acceptable to liberals and conservatives as well as to secular and faith-based communities.
While government and education leaders who advocate character education programs acknowledge that the family still bears primary responsibility for character development, they think recent changes in family structures and roles have mandated that schools assume a greater supporting role. When Texas recently introduced the Character Counts program on a statewide basis, then Gov. George W. Bush said, "... parents should expect schools to be allies in the moral education of children. The lessons of the home must be reinforced by the standards of the school ..."
Known as the "Six Pillars of Character," the core values that are the foundation of the program are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.
Payson High School family and consumer sciences teacher Terri McKee, who was instrumental in bringing Character Counts to the Rim country, said it works best as a multi-year, long-term program. For this reason, the emphasis this first year has been in the elementary schools.
To introduce the program into the primary grades, educators in the Rim country's elementary schools have tried to immerse the six pillars into every aspect of the school program, including both curricular and non-curricular activities.
As today's elementary students move into the secondary grades, character education will be increasingly integrated into both Rim Country Middle School and Payson High School. Once that happens, the six pillars will be an integral part of every student's school experience, from kindergarten through graduation.
But parents and the community are also critical components of the program, said Cari Day, a parent and member of the committee staging the Parents for Character Workshop. "Every person who interacts with young people has the potential to help shape their values and character."
For parents themselves, she thinks the workshop offers extra benefits.
"As a parent, I hear my kids talking about things they have learned at school, and I'm not always quite sure what they're talking about," she said.
"This workshop is a great opportunity to get parents and children on the same page."
Peggy Adkins, a national trainer with the Josephson Institute of Ethics, will conduct the workshop. She's the same presenter who inspired Rim country educators and parents at the September workshop.
"Peggy is a wonderful motivator and an entertaining speaker who will make a believer out of all who come Thursday," Baker said.
The workshop also will feature great door prizes donated by sponsors, including a $500 travel gift certificate and $300 in cash. Since Character Counts receives no funding from the school district, sponsorships are an important component.
Businesses and organizations that have already committed include Chaparral Pines Golf Club, The Rim Golf Club, Majestic Mountain Inn, Payson Florists, Landmark Restaurant, Mogollon Grille, Macky's Grill, Arizona Public Service and the Town of Payson.
Both Baker and Day are hoping the community will show its support by packing the auditorium Thursday evening.
"If only 40 people show up, we won't be sending much of a message about the value we place on character," Baker said.
"The citizens of the Rim country have shown how much can be accomplished when they unite behind a cause," Day added. "I can't think of a cause more important than instilling values and character into our young people."