Community Columns

Girl's greeting demonstrates benefits of character education

It was my first day to volunteer in a third- grade class, so I arrived a little early. The teacher greeted me and I took a seat at the back of the room.

The young girl seated in front of me turned around, looked me in the eye, smiled and extended her right hand. "My name is Carla. I'm glad to meet you," she said.

After shaking my hand she turned back around and gave her full attention to the teacher.

This surprised and pleased me. In less than a minute I knew that I was going to enjoy my time in this classroom.

I had heard that our local school district was using a character-building program, but I didn't expect to see the benefits so soon.

Each month, all the students in the Gustine Unified School District, from kindergarten through high school, practice a specific character trait. They began the school year with courtesy and have worked through honesty, appreciation and respect.

This is a little program with much potential.

Teachers like it because courteous, honest, appreciative and respectful students improve the learning environment in their classrooms and make their jobs as teachers a little less difficult and a little more rewarding.

On another level, if Carla uses the skill she practiced with me when she goes to her first job interview, she will be well on the way to receiving her first paycheck. She displayed not only courtesy but initiative. In the business world, character skills are often as marketable, and as valuable, as academic skills.

But a character-building program serves a third purpose.

I, for one, still believe that our public schools should do more than prepare workers, managers and entrepreneurs for our economy. Education supported by our tax dollars has an obligation to prepare citizens to participate in our democracy.

Courtesy, honesty, appreciation and respect (for starters) would be most welcome and very helpful in public discourse and in political action. Carla's ability to connect with me could one day be used to connect with voters. And all of the character skills she'll learn this year would help her better serve the public as an elected official.

I'm glad to see there is something more going on in our public schools than simply preparing students to pass standardized tests.

Hollingsworth is a pastor and a poet who lives in Gustine. E-mail him at