Character Counts introduced into Seaford School District

By Lynn R. Parks

Drew Libby was admittedly a little nervous. He was about to go before a group of first graders, to talk to them about what it means to have good character. And he wasn't quite sure how it would work.

As things turned out, it worked fine. The children in Alison Smolecki's class at West Seaford Elementary School listened to what Libby and his fellow volunteer Scott Sapna had to say, and answered questions that the two men asked.

"I think that things went well," Libby said after leaving the classroom. "The children definitely seemed interested. And they were very respectful for first graders."

Libby and Sapna are among six area business people who are the first wave of volunteers in Character Counts, a program designed to teach to school children what it means to have good character. David Genshaw, Seaford city councilman and acting mayor, is leading the effort to bring the program to the Seaford School District.

Tuesday was the volunteers' first day in the school. Initially, the program will confine its efforts to West Seaford Elementary, Genshaw said. As businesses and volunteers understand the commitment that being a volunteer character coach takes, he will start looking for more people to send into additional schools. The goal, he said, is eventually to have weekly visits to every class in every school in the district.

Volunteers started out at West Seaford because principal Susan Nancarrow "was the first one to say, 'Bring it to my school!'" Genshaw said. On Tuesday morning, Nancarrow greeted each of the volunteers and said how pleased she is to have Character Counts in her school.

"I am excited, thrilled," she said. "I just can't wait to see how this takes off. It is always a good thing to get more positive adult role models in the schools."

In addition to Libby and Sapna, both of whom work for Penco Corporation in Seaford, volunteers were Gina Banning and Christy Gorski from Trinity Transport, Seaford, and Tracy Tapman and Don Tricarico from Nanticoke Health Services.

In teams of two, they went into West Seaford's three first-grade classrooms and introduced themselves and the Character Counts program.

"Having good character is about being a good person and being responsible," Libby told Smolecki's class.

"A person with good character is a winner," Sapna added. "He is setting an example for other people. We want to make the world a better place and having people with good character is what we need."

Midway through the men's talk, Libby interrupted it to point out an example of good character, right there in the classroom. Student Jordan Carroll had dropped his pencil, Libby said. "I picked it up and handed it to him. And he said thank-you. Someone who says thank-you is an example of someone with good character."

Character Counts was developed by the Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics. The institute was founded by Michael Josephson, a former law professor and attorney who lives in Los Angeles.

The program teaches six positive character traits: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. Through the school year, Genshaw said, the volunteers will talk about each of the traits and give examples of how they can be displayed in everyday life.

"These character traits are the foundations of a good life," said volunteer Banning. "And they are a lot of the things that kids are getting away from in their home life."

Genshaw said that the program is as much about getting people in the community interested in the schools as it is about teaching children. As that interaction increases, he added, it could be that the Character Counts lessons go past the confines of the classroom.

"Wouldn't it be neat if this spread beyond the schools to impact the community as a whole," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if this program comes to mean as much to the adults as to the students. That would be the ideal."

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