July 20, 2004 — Prominent educators and administrators from throughout the United States and Canada will convene at the University of Utah Aug. 4 through 7 to discuss ways to incorporate character education into K-12 curriculum. The annual conference is sponsored by Community of Caring and the U’s Department of Special Education.
In conjunction with the conference, both Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and McKell Withers, superintendent of Salt Lake City School District, will receive the Outstanding City-School District Partnership Award from Eunice Kennedy Shriver for their work in creating a model partnership for the benefit of students. Mayor Anderson named Salt Lake City a Community of Caring City earlier this year. On Thursday, Aug. 5, Jacalyn Leavitt, wife of former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, will address the gathering at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and will encourage their participation in character education.
According to Kristin Fink, Community of Caring executive director, character education is funded by the No Child Left Behind act through a competitive grant process, and character education is integrated into many state standards across the nation.
Community of Caring, a groundbreaking, pioneering character education program with a unique focus on students with intellectual disabilities, was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation in 1982. Shriver, who will be in Salt Lake City to attend a portion of the conference, originally founded the program at Johns Hopkins Hospital to prevent teenage pregnancy, which was thought to be a leading cause of mental retardation in low birth weight babies. Shriver, who also founded the Best Buddies program and the Special Olympics, consulted ethicists, researchers, physicians and teachers to define qualities that strengthen character and thereby strengthen the nation-caring, respect, responsibility and trust. She added “family” to the constellation.
“Historically, the goal of education was academic and character development of students. So the program quickly spun off to be a school model,” reports Fink, who taught in Utah’s public schools for 22 years.
Today Community of Caring is K-l2, school-wide, comprehensive and research-based. The Community of Caring philosophy aims to enhance a school’s culture and weave its core values- caring, respect, responsibility, trust and family-into every aspect of school life, including the existing curriculum and into the lives of students. It is hoped that these ideals, which appear on posters and colored cards in the halls and classrooms of Community of Caring schools, will be modeled in the school community.
Schools adopt the program for a variety of reasons-to create more inclusive school communities, to improve school attendance and academic performance, to prevent drug and alcohol abuse and to foster safer and more respectful school environments.
Community of Caring is in almost 1,000 public, private and parochial schools in the United States and Canada, with 20 percent of all member schools located in Utah.
Fink says the programs bring students, educators and parents together to become better people. “It teaches kids to have head and heart skills, apply values to situations, and make good, critical choices. It gives kids a sense of purpose and is good prevention. These core values are about what it is to be human. Empathy must be fostered,” says Fink, adding that character education must be approached intentionally in order to “have caring happen.”
A 1991 Center for Health Policy Study reported that in Community of Caring schools students earned higher grade point averages and students had reduced involvement in at-risk behaviors, such as teen pregnancy and the use of alcohol. Research conducted in 2003, by Ann Higgins d’Alessandro, at Fordham University, suggests that Community of Caring schools have a more caring school culture in that students are involved in more positive relationships with their teachers and peers. Students feel they have a voice in their schools and are able to speak up and feel they have good educational opportunities.
Community of Caring’s annual national conference provides opportunities for teachers, administrators, students, curriculum specialists, student services personnel, staff developers, parents, school board members and community members to network and share ideas about Community of Caring. Workshop topics will include information on, among others, improving school climate, integrating character education, service learning ideas, making community connections, including students with intellectual disabilities in a Community of Caring, securing funding and understanding and appreciating diversity.
Educators can receive continuing education credit hours through the University of Utah by attending the conference. More information on the conference can be found online at http://www.communityofcaring.org/beta/ServicesAndResources/NationalConference/overview.html.