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Teachers College, Columbia University
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Teleconference Trains Teachers and Parents in Character Education

The teleconference in late May was billed as moving "New York State's public schools one step closer to leading the nation in character education."

Teacher and parent teams from school districts in upstate New York-Buffalo and Dunkirk-and their downstate colleagues-from District 4 in Manhattan and Westchester County's Mamaroneck Union Free School District-held a teleconference to share their progress report on New York State's Character Education Pilot Program. One of the three teleconference sites was hosted by TC in room 234 Horace Mann.

The event was part of an ongoing four-year project to develop and institute a character education curriculum in grades K-6 in New York State and eventually across the nation. This project is the result of a million dollar federal grant issued via New York State to the not-for-profit organization EPIC (Every Person Influences Children).

EPIC is a Buffalo-based organization with years of experience in helping parents in their efforts to raise children to become responsible, capable adults.

EPIC turned to TC to help create the character development curriculum to be used in the state's school systems. TC staff has been at work on this challenge over the past year. An independent assessment company will monitor the effectiveness of the program.

The four pilot school districts represent culturally, economically and racially diverse populations. Teachers and parents from the districts have been meeting regularly during the year to consider and try out proposed activities. Their feedback has been factored into the progress reports. At the teleconference, the members of the various teams were able to meet with each other, face-to-face, and discuss their work.

EPIC President Vito J. Borelli opened the teleconference and said, "Today the challenge of raising children must be shared by parents, relatives and caregivers; teachers, school support staff and members of the community. Every Person Influences Children reminds us of the importance our actions have in the raising of not only our own children, but other children in our lives."

Dr. Joshua Halberstam, Director of the Character Education Project at TC's Center for Educational Outreach and Innovation, spoke to the more than 100 people assembled at the sites about the importance of integrating ethics in the classroom with real-life situations. He continued, "We have no choice. If we don't teach values and ethics, children will learn it elsewhere." He noted that by the time a student graduates high school he or she would have spent 23,000 hours watching television or working on the Internet versus 11,000 hours in the classroom. "The goal here is not to preach," he said, "but to get children to think reflectively about ethical issues."

He also added that he and others at TC see this project as a unique opportunity to imbue character training into the new standards so that they will be integrated into the regular teaching pattern of the school day.

Robert M. Bennett, a member of the New York Board of Regents and the head of United Way in Erie County, New York, said that the pilot project is the final leg in the board's effort to improve public schools. The Board raised teacher certification and academic standards in hope of improving student performance. "But schools acting alone cannot achieve these standards. Schools need to work with parents to integrate civic involvement with curriculum needs."

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