“Put first things first.”
It’s easier said than done. But one private school in Clifton, New Jersey, has developed a character formation program to put that motto into action.
The goal of New Hope School is to help K-8 students form connections between knowledge and character.
New Hope School realizes that students need more than smarts and skills to be happy. They also need the character development to apply their skills well in society. Students thrive when they know how to put first things— like charity and generosity— first.
That’s why New Hope students start each morning with character-building.
Right after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, students say the school pledge, which focuses on developing respect, responsibility, and a spirit of service.
Rather than heading straight to math class, students then kick off the day with a 30-minute session on character development.
One of the ways Principal Robert Beebe explains the value of character-building to students is by bringing up computer hacking.
“If your character isn’t well-developed you end up using [knowledge and skills] for selfish purposes,” he says. “Why is there a lot of hacking going on and people worried about their security? There are a lot of very smart, knowledgeable people out there that are misusing their abilities to hurt people instead of help people.”
New Hope believes that “every person has value as a unique child of God no matter his/her religious belief or background,” and God gives each person unique gifts to develop and use for the good of others.
To help students develop these natural skills and character strengths, New Hope draws on inspirational readings from various cultural sources. The school also focuses on specific virtues each month.
In June, for instance, New Hope students focused on heroism. “Our young people are in dire need of heroes—people who are willing to take on a challenge to do great deeds for the benefit of others,” the school newsletter wrote to parents at the school.
Speaking of parents, they play a big role at New Hope School too. In fact, New Hope’s mission of character-centered learning environment was inspired by moms.
More than twenty years ago, two mothers in Clifton were seeking a school. Not just any school, but one that would challenge their students academically while helping them grow morally. When they did not find this learning environment offered in the schools available to them, they founded New Hope.
Education “begins with what we call cultivation of the heart,” describes Beebe. “We should first of all be concerned about developing children’s hearts, which is the basis of their character. On that foundation, we talk about education norms and proper behavior toward one another, parents, teachers, all the different kinds of relationships they’ll experience in life.”
Character is a daily part of the curriculum and conversations at New Hope, but students also have the opportunity to transform talk into action.
The school’s community service has included singing for the mayor and local senior citizens, food drives, clothing drives, and more. Students even painted the overpass near the school recently in celebration of the 100th anniversary of their city.
What a great reminder that schools can support students not just in developing skills, but also in using those skills for good!
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