April 15th, 2014  |  Foundations

Character Development Program Launches

Many people are surprised to learn that the best predictors of a student’s academic performance in college are not high school GPA or SAT scores. Rather, studies from the University of Pennsylvania show that character strengths, like persistence, self-control, and self-confidence, are more accurate at predicting success.

Happily, such traits are not simply innate—they can be learned through intentional teaching. For some at-risk children, the coaching they receive in these areas is as critical as classroom instruction in reading, math, and science.

In January, we began a pilot program called Arete Foundations with middle and high school students at Bright Futures Academy in the heart of Atlanta. The evidence-based program builds social and emotional strengths in the 6th through 10th graders, who are seeking to overcome hurdles inherent to childhood poverty. Each week, an Arete Program Specialist delivers a classroom lesson using curriculum based on the VIA Institute on Character Strengths.

The program begins with an initial assessment, where each student discovers natural strengths and identifies areas for improvement. Lessons over subsequent weeks use games, role-playing, film clips, and discussions to focus on developing character traits such as persistence, empathy, and curiosity.

“From the start, the Bright Futures students were eager to understand the results of their character inventory and to share the findings with their classmates and families,” said Jeff Bailey, who as executive vice president oversees the program for Arete. “One seventh grade student asked if she could take the list home to show her mother, and to hang it on her bedroom wall. We are greatly encouraged by the initial progress.”

In addition to dedicated classes, teachers lead a small group of students in weekly “family time,” during which they consider ways students’ individual character traits might complement those of others. Even academic classes can provoke further conversation, such as the English teacher who helped her students consider the character strengths and weaknesses of those they encountered in the stories they were reading.

As elementary as it sounds, numerous studies have shown that simply teaching kids to pay attention to character leads to character growth. Intentionally teaching traits such as persistence, optimism, and gratitude produces children who develop these characteristics to a significant degree. In time, these children not only show improved academic performance, but also find greater success in their relationships.

"While this is a pilot for us, we hope to expand Arete Foundations to other schools for 2014-15." said Bailey. "Helping disadvantaged kids attend higher performing schools is one step along the path to success, but for many, it is not enough. Arete Foundations will equip those students with a broader set of skills to improve their chance at a successful future."

For more information about Arete Foundations, please contact Jeff Bailey at jbailey@aretescholars.org.