Character counts at Mary B. Neal Elementary School, a 2013 National School of Character and home of the blue crabs of character.
At Neal, said Principal Carol Leveillee, “Character education is not a program, it’s a way of life.” The Character Education Partnership (CEP) recognized Leveillee and Neal staff as a 2013 National School of Character on Oct. 26 at the National Forum on Character Education in Washington, D.C. Neal is one of 29 schools nationwide, and the only one in Maryland, to receive the honor. Neal showed through a rigorous evaluation process that its focus on character development has a positive impact on academic achievement, student behavior and school climate.
Educational leaders from across the nation and Canada toured Neal on Oct. 24 to learn a little about the school, the character education philosophy and the role of character education has in the classroom. National Schools of Character are expected to serve as models for other schools, helping them to achieve the same results. “Your school is such a great place to be. I even want to come work here,” said Marc Brindle, a principal from Quebec, Canada. Brindle was one of 17 visitors who toured the school, taking pictures of the hallways promoting character and the three R’s – respect, responsibility and the right to learn.
Students show character from the moment they walk in the front doors in the morning until the time they leave. Each morning, Neal students start their day with the Neal pledge, “As a Neal blue crab I promise to show the three R’s: respect, responsibility and the right to learn in all that I do. I will strive for excellence in my attitude, my behavior and my character.”
“We focus on the three R’s … I encourage the students to carry the three R’s in their pockets wherever they go, even to grandma’s house. I tell the students that character is what you do even when no one is watching,” Leveillee said.
Character education is a fixture in Neal’s mission statement. Prior to the opening of Neal in 2008, Leveillee identified character education as a focus and priority. “From the beginning, I knew I wanted Neal to receive this recognition. Being the principal of a National School of Character and to know that in five years we have created an environment that has received national recognition is very rewarding,” Leveillee said.
Neal students and staff weave character education into their daily activities. Service learning – giving back to their community and to others – is a key component of Neal’s character commitment. Annual projects include feeding the hungry and funding cancer research. Since opening five years ago, Neal has donated more than 14,245 pounds of food and 2,000 cans of soup while also raising $10,736.16 for the Southern Maryland Food Bank. Additionally, they have contributed $24,473.30 to the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
“What these schools are accomplishing is absolutely remarkable,” said CEP Schools of Director Dr. Russ Sojourner. “At a time in which school safety and positive climate/culture is of utmost importance to our students, parents, and communities, it’s inspiring to identify schools that are focusing on what’s most important – developing students who are both intellectually and ethically strong.”
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,500 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 35 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX Coordinator and Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Connie W. Armstead, Section 504 Coordinator (employees/adults), at Charles County Public Schools, central office building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, Maryland 20646. 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.