- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2001

Children can learn character in many venues, one of them a museum in Savannah, Ga.
The Mighty Eighth Air Force Heritage Museum, which commemorates sacrifices of U.S. airmen from World War II to today, offers a way for students to learn about the 27 character traits mandated by Georgia's state character curriculum.
Students can learn about the patriotism that movie star Jimmy Stewart exhibited in signing up for combat in World War II or the generosity the U.S. Air Force displayed while dropping shipments of food over the Netherlands in 1945.
"The museum, with its historical exhibits and personal stories, seemed a natural vehicle to use," says Vivian Rogers-Price, the museum's director of education. "There are so many examples that illustrate nearly every single mandated trait. It was a natural association between the history and stories here at the museum and the traits."
The 90,000-square-foot museum was built in 1996 with a $12.5 million bond from Chatham County, where it is located. The character-education program is in its second year. About 10,000 students viewed the museum in 2000.
When they enter the building, students first receive a brief overview of the history of the 8th Air Force Division, first activated in 1942 after the Pearl Harbor attack.
Next, they visit the "Honoring the Eighth Gallery," which has a panel for each character-education trait, with a period photo and a historical story to go with it. Panels are scattered among the artifacts. For example, with the generosity trait, the museum displays an air drop canister like the ones the 8th Air Force used to drop food over the Netherlands.
Students also go through the "Mission Experience," a multimedia presentation that includes a flight simulation of the sights and sounds of a bombing run.
"It's a very emotional and heart-pounding experience," Miss Rogers-Price says.
The multimedia presentation was one of the aspects Wallace Blackstock's fourth-grade class from Ricon Elementary in Ricon, Ga., liked best about the Mighty Eighth when they visited last October. Their school is only 30 minutes outside of Savannah, but some groups have traveled from as far as Orlando, Fla., or Greensboro, N.C.
"The next day," Mr. Blackstock says, "students came back and said, 'I talked to my grandfather and he was in the war and he said he was on a plane, too.' "
"Part of our mission is to enable these young people to experience something that we pray they never have to experience in real life," Miss Rogers-Price says.
"We want them to learn about history the good and the bad. We want them to learn about truth, honor, courage, sacrifice, valor all of the aspects of character that they need to understand before they can grow into productive and responsible citizens. We want them to remember remember what they saw and experienced, and remember to whom they owe their freedom."
Georgia is one of the 26 states, along with the District of Columbia, that receives federal grants for character education through the Character Education Partnership (CEP), a nonpartisan and nonprofit group. The Department of Education funds the program at $8 million a year, an amount President Bush has said he'd like to more than triple to $25 million.
The state Humanities Council also funds a program teaching educators how to model and display character, says Jason Wetzel, associate director of character education at the Georgia Humanities Council. He goes into Georgia schools to educate teachers and get the whole community around the children involved, from the bus driver and custodian to the principal.
"Character education is woven like a golden thread through the entire school and school day," he says. "There is not one moment or one hour for character education. All moments, all hours every day are character education opportunities.
Likewise, Andrea Grenadier, communications director for the CEP, says teachers can use examples of good character traits from figures in literature or history.
"There's a whole lot of moral and ethical ground to cover in all the subjects," she says, adding true character education takes time to sink in.
"Every time there's a school shooting, people are always looking for a quick fix," she says. "But character education is a long-term change."
Georgia's character-education program can do a lot to minimize the chances of students developing deadly behavior, Mr. Wetzel notes.
"Having an effective character-education program like what we have here in Georgia will contribute greatly to minimizing violence," he says.
He cites the example of Rome High School in Rome, Ga., a school that has 60 percent of its students on a free or reduced-cost lunch program. It started a character-education program three years ago and has had a 62 percent reduction in violence, a 34 percent reduction in school suspensions, half the level of absenteeism and tardiness, higher SAT scores and double the students taking advanced placement exams.
He touts the Mighty Eighth museum as helpful because "the students get to ask themselves, 'What does this mean, how can this apply to my life, how can this make me a better person?' "


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