Apart from knowing reading, writing and ’rithmetic, what are the qualities that Shawnee Mission School District graduates should show?
That was the question Superintendent Jim Hinson posed to more than 40 parents, students and staff members who gathered at Westridge Middle School last week for the third in a series of “Super Chat” sessions he instituted this year.
Hinson said he was in the process of appointing a character education task force made up of community, business and faith leaders. He said he hoped to name the panel by Dec. 31 and that it would meet and make recommendations by the end of the school year.
“The Area Council of PTAs approached me last spring with the idea,” Hinson said. “We’ll look at what other districts are doing. We’ll ask what character traits are important. We’ll be methodical and ensure that everybody has input.”
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Character.org (formerly known as the Character Education Partnership) defines character education, in part, as “a commitment to helping young people become responsible, caring, and contributing citizens.”
Hinson spoke of “soft skills” that would complement the technical skills “that our students need to be successful in this world.” He said he recently spoke to a local business leader who complained, “I can’t get job applicants to shake my hand and look me in the eye.”
Several parents brought up training in personal-finance matters such as household budgeting, applying for loans and credit cards. A couple of the middle schools student council members who attended the session said they had already received solicitations for credit cards.
A couple of other patrons urged training in charitable work and community and/or global activism. Hinson said some high schools outside the district require that students perform a certain number of community-service hours to graduate. That’s the sort of thing the task force will consider, he said.
Other qualities that patrons brought up included kindness, resilience, flexibility and generosity.
Parent Amy Polen supported the notion of community-service education. She expressed concern that young people today feel “entitled” and are self-centered. She cited the “selfie” photo trend and said, “You have to look outside yourself,” she said.
A couple of the students challenged the superintendent when it came to incorporating technology in the classroom.
With every student now receiving a portable computer from the district, it becomes challenging to use the device solely or primarily for schoolwork and to avoid the temptation to use it for texting or gaming, they said.
Seventh-grader Christopher Shipp said he found it harder to retain material when using the keyboard constantly to write assignments, as compared to writing them by hand.
Hinson offered no hope that the situation would change. Rather, he said, distraction is one of the challenges students will have to overcome.
Polen, a member of the Shawnee Mission Area Council, said after the meeting she was pleased with the Super Chat format.
“Every parent should go to hear what he (Hinson) is saying and what parents are saying, what’s coming down the pipeline,” she said.