Center for Character and Citizenship celebrates 5th anniversary

Center for Character and Citizenship directors (left) Marvin W. Berkowitz, the Sanford N. McDonnell Endowed Professor of Education, and Wolfgang Althof, the Teresa M. Fischer Endowed Professor of Citizenship Education, celebrate the center’s fifth year of providing character and citizenship education.

Two educators in the College of Education at the University of Missouri–St. Louis had a vision to influence ethical behavior and civic engagement by K-12 students. That vision became the Center for Character and Citizenship which celebrates its fifth anniversary this year.

The center opened in 2006 with Marvin W. Berkowitz, the Sanford N. McDonnell Endowed Professor of Education, and Wolfgang Althof, the Teresa M. Fischer Endowed Professor of Citizenship Education, as directors. They never imagined five years later they would be able the say the center had helped tens of thousands of students and educators in hundreds of schools in just a short time.

“What we are able to do is amazing,” Berkowitz said. “We are very proud of the breadth of our impact, we have grown from two to a collaboration of 27 scholars from eight local universities, 18 doctoral students and five staff members.”

Althof agreed, and said the vision for the center continues to be infrastructure, funding and collaborations.

“One of the current disadvantages is that we don’t have space for all of us to be together, which in some ways makes it a challenge to even stay at the level we are,” he said. “We hope to get to a degree of sustainability, where we can be financially able to take care of our facility once we create a building to house us all together.”

Even without a facility and while operating only on the budget of the directors’ endowments, the center successfully maintains several programs including the Leadership Academy in Character Education, Youth Empowerment in Action and the Citizenship Education Clearing House.

The Leadership Academy in Character Education, also known as LACE, is a yearlong program that helps educational leaders deepen their understanding of character education, reform their schools, and integrate character education into the classrooms. Berkowitz has run the program for 13 years, and it is now being replicated in Wisconsin.

Youth Empowerment in Action is a service-learning program that promotes media literacy and production to students while advocating policy-making skills. The program is directed by Melinda Bier, a research scientist in the center.

The Citizenship Education Clearing House, also known as CECH, provides students with real-life political experiences. The two key CECH programs, overseen by Althof and directed by Sandy Diamond, are Kids Voting Missouri and MY LOGO. Kids Voting Missouri gives students a chance to learn about and take part in the voting process. MY LOGO teaches students about local government and issues in Missouri.

The center is housed in the College of Education and is a part of the Des Lee Collaborative Vision.

But five years is just the beginning for the center. Both Althof and Berkowitz foresee a lot of growth in the coming years. In addition to infrastructure and funding, they’d like to see program opportunities for graduate students.

“We’ll soon be finalizing a proposal for a master’s degree program in educational psychology with a focus on character education and citizenship,” Berkowitz said. “Additionally we’d like to be able to support more doctoral students through the center. I can’t tell you how many people from all over the world contact me wanting to come study here, to take part in LACE, but we have to turn them down because we can’t do it financially.”

The center will soon feature a new website, which eventually will serve as a clearing house of resources for educators. The site will launch later this spring.

And of course the center’s goal is to continue to grow and expand its program offerings.

“We want to keep positively impacting the training of educators,” Althof said. “The center’s focus has always been to foster the development of character and citizenship for the benefit of children and society.”

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