Making Edmond a City of Character
Group Sponsors Character-based Education in Area Schools
You’re walking down the sidewalk and find a wallet on a bench. What do you do?
A dedicated group of people is working to make sure everyone would do the right thing: return the wallet to its owner. They are the Character Council of Edmond, and returning a wallet is just one example of their goal to build a “City of Character.”
The council’s main focus is sponsoring character-based education in area schools. Jim Hulsey, president of the Character Council, said there are two reasons for starting in schools. Children are a receptive audience for the character message, and it is easier to obtain funding for educational programs aimed at students. Most Edmond elementary schools were already using the Great Expectations character training, but no character education was being offered to middle school students.
In 2003, the Character Council sponsored 15 teachers from Central Middle School to receive character training. Since that time, more than 120 teachers from eight schools have been through the training.
One of the first teachers was Lee Ann Kuhlman, who is now an officer on the Character Council board. Kuhlman said she was so impressed with the training that she decided volunteering with the council was worth her time.
Kuhlman has taught Family and Consumer Sciences, formerly Home Arts, at Central for the past 10 years and was recognized last year as the school’s Teacher of the Year. Because her class is hands-on and less structured than other subjects, Kuhlman’s No. 1 classroom rule has always been respect.
“The students have to share supplies and they have to get along,” she said.
After attending the training, she said she was able to recognize and praise students for specific traits they were demonstrating in the classroom.
“It means a little more when you can pinpoint those traits,” Kuhlman said.
Identifying specific traits also gives Kuhlman a chance to discuss character with her students and talk about why it is important. In the job market, people are hired for their skills, but losing a job can often be traced to a character issue, she said.
Kuhlman said the training also impressed upon her how important it is to set a good example.
“When students see me being patient, it is easier for them to be patient,” she said.
Central principal Tara Fair has made sure that character is a priority at the school. Each morning’s announcements include the character trait the school is focusing on that month. This might be a quote about the trait or examples of how the trait is useful. A framed poster of all 49 character traits hangs in the school office.
It is difficult to measure what effect the character initiative is having on the students, but Kuhlman thinks it is working well. In her classroom, the students cooperate and assist each other, she said.
“I believe they take great pride in that,” she said. “I look at our school every day and our halls are clean. It is a small thing, but we have 900 students. It shows responsibility.”
Hulsey said character is difficult to define. In years past, people were remembered for their character and described that way – as honest, generous, thoughtful or diligent. Now people are described more in terms of their accomplishments – what degree they have, where they work or the size of their house.
“If we keep going on that route, the only people who would ever be recognized are sports figures or CEOs, and there are lots of other people worthy of our acknowledgment,” Hulsey said.
To this end, the Character Council has developed another program called Champions of Character. Each month, the council solicits nominations from the community to recognize an individual who exemplifies the focus character trait for that month. The person is recognized by the city council, and several of the honorees have gone on to volunteer with the council.
Eventually, the council would like to work with families, law enforcement, government, media and churches. Hulsey hopes the ultimate outcome of the council’s efforts will be better citizens, better family relations and better working conditions.
“Realistically I don’t anticipate we’ll see this as an overnight revelation, but I think these efforts will pay off,” he said. “It takes time, patience and diligence.”
Time and patience are familiar to the group. Edmond leaders first began working to build character in 1998 when the City of Edmond and Edmond Medical Hospital implemented character training for their employees through CharacterFirst! In 2001, this effort developed into the Character Council with the idea of building character citywide, supported by a city resolution making Edmond a “City of Character.” In 2003, the group obtained their tax-exempt status, allowing them to qualify for grant funding.
This year, the Character Council expanded their teacher training sponsorship to include all Edmond Middle Schools, both public and private. They hope to include the Edmond Freshman Academy teachers by next school year. The group received a grant from the Edmond Social Agency and also seeks support from Edmond businesses and organizations.
For more information on the Character Council of Edmond, go online to www.edmondcharacter.org.