Message of Character Counts reaching ever-widening audience

The Character Counts Coalition in Downey, begun two years ago at the initiative of Downey Unified School District superintendent Wendy Doty, has found another champion in the person of city mayor Mario Guerra.A day before Halloween last week, he and Michael Josephson spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., he (representing the coalition) to make a PowerPoint presentation on Downey's Character Counts program, Josephson to present the results of a recent biennial study that examined the relationship between high school attitudes and behavior and, later, adult conduct. Guerra went to the nation's capital at the invitation of Josephson. Josephson is president of the Joseph & Edna Josephson Institute of Ethics, the nonprofit he founded in 1987 in honor of his parents. The values-based institute was founded to offer character guidelines, character development seminars; workshops/community forums; customized on-site training; ethics audits and consulting; publications, videos, communications; and the promotion of standards/codes of conduct, all in the name of character building. It was in 1992 that the program bearing the catchphrase Character Counts was born. With its formulation of the Six Pillars of Character-trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship-the institute's programs really took off. Downey's Character Counts program took root initially at DUSD, and through careful and purposeful nurturing found fertile ground at City Hall (police and fire, community services' ASPIRE), with Gangs Out of Downey, YMCA, youth sport leagues, the Chamber of Commerce, and civic organizations. A climate of the supremacy of ethical values has thus been it seems established in the community. DUSD's Character Counts program has been hailed as a model for other Southland school districts, has increasingly gained recognition at the state level, and is now drawing even Washington's attention. Add to this the city of Downey's eliciting the envy of other cities for its fiscal acumen in the face of economic storms, and you have the makings of a powerful combination that can propel Downey to the forefront of any discussion of progressive cities. But the best it seems is yet to come. The recent opening of the Columbia Memorial Space Center, plus a number of anticipated exciting developments in the near term (read Porto's, Tesla), bode even better in the future. In his D.C. PowerPoint presentation, as an example of the impact made by Character Counts in Downey, Guerra stressed how the FBI 2007-2009 index of crimes in Downey (aggregate of homicides, forcible rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, larcenies-thefts, and motor vehicle thefts) dropped by 12 percent, and how suspensions and expulsions have steadily declined at DUSD. In the press conference, Josephson named three "most emphatic findings" of the aforementioned study: 1) that cynicism (the belief that lying and cheating are necessary to success) is one of the most significant and reliable predictors of dishonest behavior for teens, young adults and mature adults; cynics, it said, are much more likely to lie or cheat on every single item than those who are not cynical; 2) that younger generations are significantly more likely to engage in all forms of dishonest conduct than those who are older; 3) that high school character [really] matters; regardless of their current age, people who cheated on exams in high school two or more times are considerably more likely to be dishonest later in life on all major measures. Thus, Josephson pointed out, a community should not allow the deterioration of values and character, that values are eroded by the failure of parents, teachers, and employers to impose appropriate consequences on those who violate legal and ethical standards; and that every parent, teacher or manager can create an ethical culture at home, in the school and at the office by use of a simple acronym, TEAM, which stands for teach, enforce, advocate and model.(this is what the institute actually does, he said). Guerra was in D.C. for another reason. While there, he met with Cong. Lucille Roybal-Allard and her chief of staff to inform them of his mission (and persuade the congressional district to adopt the Character Counts idea), and to press the city's case for implementation of a "Downey Regional Water Reclamation and Groundwater Augmentation Project," designed to lessen dependence on imported water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. In a related event, officials from the U. S. Department of Education, acknowledging the impressive gains being made by the district with its pervasive Character Counts program, paid a visit to Maude Price Elementary School on Tuesday, in recognition of the district's stellar efforts at promulgating the 6 pillars of character. They were accompanied by Doty and Guerra and exchanged ideas and goodwill with 2nd graders and a combined 4th-5th grade class. Headed by Peter Groff, director of the department's Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the visitors came away very impressed with the Character Counts efforts at the school, according to both Guerra and Price principal Janice Hobson, and expressed a desire to come visit at another future time. In this connection, Guerra hopes to make representations with the Governor in the future to make a case to make California a Character Counts state. He said a handful of states has already done so. The week of Oct. 19 was Character Counts Week, and no less than President Barack Obama issued a proclamation, excerpts of which follow: "Instilling sound character and a sense of responsibility in our children is critical to our country's future. When we teach young people about time-honored values like integrity and humility, we promote good citizenship and civic virtues that will guide them through life and sustain our democracy; "During National Character Counts Week, we pay tribute to the men and women who are selflessly serving others, inspiring and encouraging younger generations to develop the compassion, dedication, and strength of character that is the mark of our great Nation."

********** Published: November 6, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 29