State schools

Three Tuscaloosa Schools Lead Alabama Public Character Schools

Three schools in Tuscaloosa are among five designated in Alabama as character public schools by the international group Character.org.

Westlawn Middle School, Tuscaloosa Magnet Schools-Elementary and Tuscaloosa Magnet Schools-Middle join Alabama Cornerstone Schools Birmingham High School and Vestavia Hills Elementary East on the prestigious list of 69 schools selected nationally. Tuscaloosa has more schools than some states on the list, while only New Jersey, Missouri and Texas have more honored schools than Alabama.

“We are incredibly thrilled to have three public schools with character, as it confirms our work to develop students with strong character who prepare them to be contributing citizens, productive employees and overall good people,” Tuscaloosa City Schools Superintendent Mike Daria spoke about the five-year certifications. “We’re also proud of the 11 other schools in our system who applied and were designated as ’emerging’ or ‘honorable mention’.”

A strong character is the foundation of the success of the 21 schools in the city of Tuscaloosa, Daria said. By focusing on character, teachers prepare students to be agents of positive change in their community.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our schools and our school system for making this important,” said Daria, a veteran educator who is in her sixth year as superintendent. “When our young people operate on core values ​​of strong character, they make decisions from those core values. They see the importance of serving others and helping their communities. They see the good in others and see their role in improving their schools, workplaces and communities.

Westlawn Middle School Vice Principal Alphus Shipman, Principal Darlene Atkins and Vice Principal Fayetta Little. (Billy Brown/Alabama Press Center)

Westlawn Principal Darlene Atkins said she has seen many examples among the student body of character efforts paying off, including positive peer interactions, such as students helping others on and off campus. She said the most important aspect is the decision to make better choices.

“We are thrilled beyond words to have received this designation,” Atkins said. “However, we realize this is just the beginning and we will continue to do the work necessary to ensure that all of our students are successful.”

Atkins said the designation affirms that Westlawn is on the right path to ensuring students “are able to be the best they can be.” This honor also confirms that the school and its 543 students are “making tremendous strides” in character building and are proud of their efforts.

“They’re happy to brag about being Westlawn Middle students,” she said.

Tuscaloosa Magnet Schools-Middle Principal Constance Pewee-Childs believes that character should be part of a school’s culture alongside the core values ​​of excellence, diversity, service, integrity, research and leadership. Students will be well served throughout their lives by learning and adopting these characteristics, she said.

Tuscaloosa Magnet Schools-Middle is one of the public character schools. (contributed)

“Recognition from the State School of Character is more than exciting, but the process itself was more than beneficial as it required us to dig deep and determine if our efforts were working and having a positive impact on students,” said Pewee-Childs. “Our school aims to foster the development of the whole child by being intentional in teaching and integrating character into our curriculum and school activities.”

The 163 students of Tuscaloosa Magnet Schools-Middle are involved in the community through many efforts, such as the Camp McDowell Agricultural School and a collaborative black history program. “Passion projects” have included helping primary school students, growing plants in the school garden, painting murals and raising funds to build wells in Kenya.

“Our school community is full of individuals who care about each other and the world we live in,” Pewee-Childs said. “We believe in giving back, getting involved and caring for our community.”

Principal Preeti Nichani said teachers and the 300 students at Tuscaloosa Magnet Schools-Elementary are “pretty thrilled” to be named a character public school for the first time.

“It gives me tremendous comfort to know that our school’s character commitment reminds everyone in our school on a daily basis of our five core values: caring, respect, integrity, principles and critical thinking,” said Nichani. “As a school, this character journey is a commitment to an education that goes beyond the four walls of the school. We embrace this journey to teach our TMSE community to stand up for others and do what is morally right.

Tuscaloosa Magnet Schools-Elementary is one of the public character schools. (contributed)

Nichani said advice from Character.org helped change the direction of her school. While academics remain the driving force, character building is now integrated into the curriculum.

“At our school, the unique backgrounds and interests of our faculty and students are celebrated,” Nichani said. “Our teachers encourage student collaboration and enjoy new ideas while building our school community. »

Daria said that every student’s success is rooted in “good and strong character,” and the concept is fundamental to every school. Jessica Constant facilitates character training for schools in the city of Tuscaloosa, working with a team of teachers at each school who work with some of the 11,000 K-12 students.

Students work in the garden at Tuscaloosa Magnet Schools-Middle. (contributed)

“This work aligns with our pillars with West Alabama Works and the Chamber of Commercesaid Daria, who has worked in schools in the city of Tuscaloosa all but one year since beginning her career in 1996. “It’s really a community effort to build character in our young people.” We thank West Alabama Works and the Tuscaloosa Educational Foundation for their support. Additionally, we are deeply grateful to the incredible faculty and staff at our schools who do this work.

A committee of the national organization reviews each school submission before choosing the state winners.

“Each of these schools and districts has implemented a comprehensive initiative that equips and empowers its staff to reinforce and model a range of positive core values ​​that will mold and shape the hearts, minds, and choices of their students,” said said Arthur Schwartz, president of Character.org headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Character.org empowers people of all ages to practice and model the ethical core values ​​it promotes internationally, said Meg Tinkham, Director of Communications and Marketing.

Formerly known as the Character Education Partnership, the organization has championed character since 1993. Today, Character.org creates and shares resources, including the “Framework of 11 Principles for Schools: A Guide to Cultivating a Culture of Character. » The organizational vision is to be the global leader and voice of character development in families, schools and organizations.

Since its inception, Character.org’s Schools of Character program has positively impacted nearly 3 million students, teachers, parents and community members, Tinkham said. Each year, Character.org certifies schools and districts at the state level that emphasize character development, which positively affects academic achievement, student behavior, and school climate.

Alabama schools are eligible to become National Character Schools, Tinkham said. A school in the state, Vestavia Hills Elementary Westis currently on the list of National Character Schools.