Center for Character and Citizenship celebrates 10 years of service

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Marvin Berkowitz addresses colleagues at the Center for Character and Citizenship 10th Anniversary on Sept. 29. (Photos by August Jennewein)

University of Missouri–St. Louis education professors Marvin Berkowitz, Wolfgang AlthofMelinda Bier and Victor Battistich founded the Center for Character and Citizenship in 2005 to create stronger learning environments through respect and empathy for students, faculty and staff. On Sept. 29 friends of the center commemorated the Center for Character and Citizenship’s 10th anniversary.

In its first decade, the center has instituted paradigm-shifting programs for educators and pre-collegiate students such as the Leadership Academy in Character Education, Youth Empowerment in Action! and Missouri Youth Engaged in Local Government. Local community partners include organizations and companies like CharacterPlus, Circus Harmony and Anheuser-Busch. And beyond local efforts, the center has presented character and citizenship research and trained educators in countries such as Taiwan, China, England, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Spain with international partners such as the HTC Foundation in Taiwan, the Jubilee Centre in England, and Reitaku University in Japan.

“It’s much easier for educators to learn, master and enact curricula than it is to form genuine bonds and change ways of being with students in the classroom,” said Berkowitz. “As educators we are here to serve the developmental best interests of kids, and working on strategies for role modeling and teaching social responsibility is where the rubber hits the road.”

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Harvard University Lecturer Richard Weissbourd delivers the keynote address and discusses the educational benefits of caring, social justice and awareness of others.

The anniversary event featured breakout sessions that demonstrated effective classroom bonding exercises.

Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education Richard Weissbourd delivered the keynote address and discussed the educational benefits of focusing on caring, social justice, honesty and awareness of others.

“Caring is at the heart of a healthy culture, healthy community, healthy country,” said Weissbourd. “UMSL’s Center for Character and Citizenship understands this and has done great work with schools on developing moral cultures.”

Students of the character and citizenship program comprise an array of teachers, principals and administrative leaders who are seeking masters and doctoral degrees.

Lee Ellis, an education doctoral candidate at UMSL, described the program as the “Ivy League” of character and citizenship education.

“Both Marvin and Wolfgang encourage me greatly. Marvin motivates while Wolfgang challenges. They use the perfect combination of teamwork and rigor to bring out the best in the students they teach, and it’s thrilling to be mentored by such wonderful scholars,” he said.

And Amy Johnston, who is seeking an education doctorate with an emphasis on character education and democratic school governance, has altered her approach to educational leadership since beginning the program.

“Marvin’s LACE academy changed the course of my career and life. The whole crew in the center is amazing and works to improve the lives of kids. If educators understand that character education must come before academics, we will be successful at raising the next generation of leaders,” she said.

Berkowitz hopes to graduate more experts in character education like Ellis and Johnston. During his address at the anniversary, Berkowitz depicted how focus on culture can empower schools and students.

“A healthy, growing school culture needs the right climate and ingredients like a petri dish,” he said. “Power has to be distributed evenly between teachers, parents and kids. There has to be good role modeling and healthy adult cultures. And there has to be private praise, whether it is in conversation, a note or a positive phone call to parents. Some parents are so used to negative calls about their kids that when they get that one positive phone call, they’re stunned. I’ve known parents to start sobbing when you tell them about how their kid told the truth, invited a stranger to lunch or stood up for what’s right.”

The UMSL Experience

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