Members of the Lawrence Township Public School District, which has been named a National District of Character for 2020, picked up their award at a virtual ceremony on March 5, marking the second time that the school district has earned the national honor.
The Lawrence school district is one of seven public school districts nationwide to receive the honor from Character.org for 2020. The national, nonprofit group works with schools and school districts to help students become ethical and compassionate citizens, according to its website.
The designation of a National District of Character is valid for five years.
The Lawrence Township Public Schools first earned the honor in 2014.
To earn national recognition, a school district must first have been named a State District of Character – an achievement that the Lawrence schools also earned in 2020.
Eldridge Park School Principal Amy Amiett and Lawrence Intermediate School co-Principal Alyson Fischer led the district’s Character Education Committee in the extensive re-application process. The district had to meet the standards outlined in Character.org’s 11 Principles framework.
Among its 11 principles, for example, is Principle 5. It asks the school to provide students with “opportunities for moral accomplishment.” Students learn how to work as part of a team, to negotiate for peaceable solutions, to recognize and resolve ethical dilemmas and identify and meet school and community needs.
Principle 7 helps students to become self-motivated. “‘Character’ means doing the right thing and doing one’s best work, even when no one is looking,” Character.org’s website states.
The Lawrence Township Public Schools and the seven schools within the district have worked with Character.org and its predecessor, the Character Education Partnership, for more than a dozen years.
Amiett said character education is not simply an initiative that is touched on occasionally, or something that is done to receive an award.
“You see character education in the classroom, the hallway and the nurse’s office. It thrives on stage, on the soccer field and at the bus stop,” Amiett said.
Meanwhile, Superintendent of Schools Ross Kasun said the district is “humbled” to receive the honor.
“Our strategic plan focuses on the whole child,” Kasun said in a video that was aired during the March 5 ceremony. “It is a priority through academic and social emotional growth to foster our students’ capacity to become successful, contributing members of the 21st century society.”
Kasun said the district weaves character education into all of its daily activities. Each school building has its own unique character education program.
The four elementary schools are enthusiastic about immersing the children in understanding and practicing traits through school themes, character celebration assemblies and community service projects, he said.
“From the Slackwood Elementary School’s ‘Golden Hearts,’ the Eldridge Park School’s ‘Every Person Shines,’ the Ben Franklin Elementary School’s ‘Super Powers’ and the Lawrenceville Elementary School’s ‘Doing Our Best,’ they are the foundation of the students’ social emotional experience in the Lawrence Township Public Schools,” Kasun said.
At Lawrence High School, students are committed to the Cardinal Way, he said. The Cardinal Way fosters a culture of respect, empathy and compassion. The high school’s Peer Leadership Program allows students to connect as a community.
“We are humbled to be named a National District of Character, as we know the true value of the work that comes through generations of students that we motivated to become productive citizens of the world,” Kasun said.