- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2000

Public schools in three Virginia counties will receive a $1 million federal grant for a pilot project to develop moral and ethical behavior among students from kindergarten to 12th grade, the Virginia Department of Education said yesterday.

The project's goal is "to see student behavior changes that reflect the character traits we associate with productive members of our society," said Jo Lynne DeMary, superintendent of public instruction at the Department of Education.

The department will partner with the public school systems in Fairfax, Stafford and Albemarle counties, each of which will implement the project according to the particular needs of its community, said Marsha Owens, school safety specialist and coordinator.

"We will be very careful to provide flexibility" to each county, she said, adding that the grant would be shared equally by the three counties. However, a framework for the project would be provided by "the Eleven Principles of Effective Character Education" laid down by the Department of Education, she added.

Guidelines in the framework include developing "moral/ethical behaviors necessary to be contributing citizens," and "expanding student understanding of and commitment to the civic virtues and character traits identified by the community."

This is the first federal grant Virginia has received for its character-education program. Some schools in the state have had such programs in place for several years, Ms. Owens said.

At present, schools in the state impart character education both inside and outside the classroom, Ms. Owens said. Some schools involved the parents and even businesses in the program, she added.

In Fairfax, the grant would be used to further develop character-education programs involving the community and particularly parents, said Paul Regnier, a spokesman for the Fairfax County School Board.

Right now, schools implement character education across the entire curriculum, he said. For instance, "the word 'honesty' is taught to students by emphasizing its understanding in different subjects. Teachers and students would talk about honesty as it occurs in literature; or in a science class, they would discuss it as honesty in reporting lab results," he said.

Vera Blake, principal of Falls Church High School in Fairfax County, said that while her school did not have any designated programs on character education, "we try to incorporate it in other activities."

In February 1999, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation mandating that each school board establish, within its existing programs, a character-education program in its schools, although it is not specified which principles to teach. The legislation aims to improve the learning environment, promote student achievement, reduce disciplinary problems and develop civic-minded students.

Other area schools also have increasingly implemented character-education programs. The Prince George's County (Md.) Board of Education last year formally endorsed character education in the school curriculum, while some schools in the District of Columbia also have implemented character-education programs.

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