Mantua School District receives character distinction

The district is in the running for National District of Honor

The Mantua school district is a certified School District of Character. This distinction is awarded by Character.org. Founded in 1993, Character.org is an organization that certifies schools and districts at the state level that demonstrate a dedicated focus on character development. To be recognized, the school and/or district’s focus on character must show a positive impact on academic achievement, student behavior and overall school climate.

“I was very excited because we have prioritized character,” Superintendent Robert Fisicaro said.

This is Mantua’s first time receiving the award.

In 2018, Character.org recognized 64 schools and five districts in 17 states. Three New Jersey districts received the award.

“We didn’t apply as a school because we want to do everything as a district. This is a great honor,” Fisicaro said.

Two years ago, the district implemented a comprehensive character program into the education curriculum. The program, led by a character council, leads monthly staff meetings, professional development opportunities for staff, and helps instructors carry out two, 30-minute character education lessons a week. These classes are referred to as the Character, Significance, Relationships program that aim to help students grow performance character traits such as grit, curiosity and determination, and balance those with moral virtues such as wisdom, honesty, integrity and respect.

While reviewing applications to become a school/district of character, Character.org uses what is referred to as the 11 principles scoring guide. Some of these principles include: The school offers a meaningful and challenging academic curriculum that respects all learners, develops their character and helps them to succeed; and the school uses a comprehensive, intentional and proactive approach to character development.

One principle also looks at the school’s definition of character. Fisicaro defines the term as, “A commitment to positive relationships and a standard of excellence along with contributing to a cause a bigger than yourself.”

With an understanding of the importance of good human character, the Mantua Township school district conducted a survey via Gallup software in 2015 that asked parents, teachers and staff how implementing a character education program would affect the students. The results — 99 percent of parents, teachers and staff identify character development as either important, very important or essential; and 90 percent of parents indicated children learning respect, honesty, integrity, empathy and selflessness is either essential or important.

“We want to strengthen the foundation so that we are able to help students become good citizens,” Fisicaro said.

Another big aspect of the character-growing initiative in the district is the number of monthly service projects students and families participate in, such as CHOP Pajama Day. This initiative calls on district families to donate money to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and students wear pajamas to school for one day. In 2016, a representative from CHOP came to Centre City School on Pajama Day and collected a $2,517 donation. Part of the money came from students selling rainbow loom bracelets and donating the earnings. The district also works with several nonprofits and other organizations in the community to show students the importance of character.

“We try to educate the whole child,” Fisicaro said.

The district will hold the distinction of District of Character for three years.

The Mantua school district and the other recipients will be considered for a further distinction in May — National District of Honor.

Visit www.character.org to learn more.