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Norwin to integrate character into curriculum

Norwin school directors unanimously approved a policy aimed at making citizenship and character education "a way of life" in the district.

That culture exists at Norwin, Superintendent Bill Kerr said, but this policy will formalize it.

"Our vision is to embed this into the curriculum," Kerr said. "We want it to become a way of life."

Goals include: to end bullying; to improve the professional relationship between students and staff; to provide a platform for students to build good character; and to improve service learning.

Norwin's policy is unique, according to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. The association said it has no other policies on file from its member school districts that specifically address citizenship and character education, though many districts include citizenship in student discipline policies.

A study group at Norwin began examining the topic in September 2010.

The group adopted seven character traits: respect, responsibility, honesty, compassion (caring), justice (fairness), courage and perseverance, said Christopher Federinko, a middle school teacher and member of the study group.

The group will continue its policy work and planning through May and plans to introduce and train staff in August.

In its first year, it plans to focus on grades K-6, then focus on grades 7-12 in the second year and beyond. The group expects a three- to five-year plan for implementation.

The process will include staff training and establishing in all grades the Noble Knight program — faculty recognition when a student does something worthy, kind and respectful.

It also will identify where in the curriculum teachers can highlight good character traits — for example, asking students if a character in a novel acted responsibly, Federinko said.

"We don't think this is a burden," Federinko said.

The policy will not assess students or discipline them, Kerr said. It's separate from the student code of conduct.

"The primary purpose of this policy is to establish guiding principles so that students develop a sense of community to learn and practice the rights, responsibilities and privileges of citizenship," the policy states.

In addition, the policy encourages all students to get involved in school and community activities through service learning to improve the quality of life in the district and its community.

Student groups at the high school — such as Interact, student union and band — already provide examples of service learning, Kerr said.

The policy ensures that every student receives instruction in the principles of freedom, justice and equality; the importance of registering to vote; and proper use of the national flag.

"I don't think there's anything more important than helping young people develop good citizenship and strong character," Kerr said.

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