OLD BRIDGE — Eight educators from Hillside High School in Hillside and Middlesex High School in Middlesex recently visited Old Bridge High School to learn how it earned a citation as a National School of Character and how Old Bridge qualified for the National District of Character title.
The Old Bridge Township Public School system received national recognition when it was named one of three National Districts of Character in the United States in 2015 by character.org; it now serves as a model, hoping to assist other districts through the rigorous process to achieve the same success for their students.
The district works with the New Jersey Alliance for Social Emotional and Character Development (NJASECD) and the Middlesex County Superintendent’s Office to spread the word.
“Working, living and learning in a character-rich community like Old Bridge is not something we want to keep to ourselves,” said Schools Superintendent David Cittadino. “We hope that it becomes contagious and spreads to other communities, where ultimately the students in the schools benefit.”
After submitting lengthy applications and undergoing on-site interviews, conference calls and an analysis of the impact related efforts have on academics, student behavior and school culture, character.org recognized Old Bridge, which now has 11 National Schools of Character, 13 State Schools of Character, in addition to the National District of Character honor.
Each year, schools and districts are selected that demonstrate through a rigorous evaluation process that their focus on character development has had a positive impact on academic achievement, student behavior and school climate. Selected schools are then expected to serve as models for other schools, helping them to achieve the same results.
According to Old Bridge High School Vice Principal Sally Fazio, both Cittadino and Assistant Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Hoeker held a School of Character workshop at the high school in July, which was attended by several New Jersey districts. At this time they offered assistance to these districts during their School of Character application process.
“I was contacted by both Hillside High School and the Middlesex School District, who asked to visit our school as they were currently evaluating their own character education programs,” Fazio said. “They wanted the opportunity to see what and how other districts are incorporating character education initiatives at their schools.”
Fazio said it was “an honor to highlight Old Bridge High School as a shining example of character, and to enlighten other schools as they prepare to begin their character education journey.”
Character.org learned that the Old Bridge School District was recognized as a New Jersey High Achieving District by the New Jersey Department of Education; saw a 47 percent drop in violence, vandalism, weapons and substance abuse incidents since 2009; and all 12 elementary schools combined saw a 45.9 percent drop in discipline referrals since 2011.
During the educators’ visit on Feb. 4, they met with student leaders representing Student Senate and the Peer Program as well as high school administrators. The visitors learned about the application process and later toured the high school facility where they saw a Project Adventure activity, an adaptive physical education class and a peer class.
Hoeker, who has led teams to bring character education to the Old Bridge School District, also is a former principal of the Old Bridge School District’s first National School of Character in 2011.
“Old Bridge pays it forward by hosting site visits from districts around the state,” Hoeker said. “Our mission is to share our strengths so that all students will benefit from social, emotional well-being.”