Ralph Singh, chair and CEO of the Wisdom Thinkers Network and coordinator of Inspire 14! brought together individuals from education, business and community in Oswego County to work together to form a foundation for a meaningful life, in school, in the community and in the workplace for students in the county.
The initiative aims to educate students and help them build and develop good character, while also developing soft skills essential for success in the workplace and community.
Individuals from the various organizations represented at the meeting shared their roles and goals for the Wisdom Thinkers Network and Inspire 14! in particular.
Many of the members present represented school districts across the county in some capacity while others were from youth organizations or community and business leaders.
Together, the Inspire 14! group aims to start the work at the elementary school level to infuse character education into the school through storytelling.
The group worked together in small focus-centered committees to develop ideas for how to expand and grow the initiative across the county.
The “cornerstone” of the character education program centers around a book entitled “Stories to Light Our Way.”
The book of eleven stories celebrating diverse cultures and traditions from around the world, uses children or animals as the main characters to teach a particular value or reinforce a character trait.
It is being utilized in area school districts to foster a positive, ethical culture in the schools.
A culture which Joe Menard, superintendent of schools for the Central Square Central School District said is building character.
“These stories work,” he said. “The bottom line is that these stories work.”
Aligned with the stories are a series of projects that reinforce their lessons and help students engage in discussions that support making wise choices, building character, cultivating compassion and creating social responsibility.
“Inspire 14! came about,” said Singh, “in part because of the focus society places on tests in school,” causing him to ask the question, “Why are we not preparing them for the test of life?”
His approach and answer to the question was to use the power of the story to prepare young people for that all important test of life.
The Wisdom thinkers Network’s mission says: “We believe that stories have the power to change the world – and by reweaving the wisdom of our traditional stories, both sacred and secular, and new understandings into education and public life we will be able to strengthen our social fabric and foster a more compassionate, inclusive, civil society.”
Sharing their perspective on the success of the stories were Sandy Creek representatives Jacqueline Hobbs, Dorianne Hathway and Carolyn Shirley.
They shared their experiences utilizing the “Stories to Light Our Way” in the Sandy Creek District.
The district began the “Stories to Light Our Way” project this year and Hobbs said she utilizes the stories in Morning Program at the elementary school level.
She shared with members of the group how the stories’ messages and character education are a good fit in morning program.
She also shared how the district incorporates the stories into the elementary curriculum.
The group reads a story in morning program and an activity is done in one of the special area classrooms as a follow up to reinforce the message.
For Hobbs, the transition to Wisdom Thinkers was an easy one.
“We’ve been doing some of the same activities, we’re just connecting it in a different way,” she said.
The same goes for Hathway, a middle school physical education teacher, who said she has embraced the initiative and starts her class each week with the positive stories.
“For me personally,” she said about using the stories in the class, “this is a precursor to my classroom. This sets the tone for the rest of the day.”
Her class is currently working on a project to identify hidden talents. Each student writes a talent they possess on a paper coin which then becomes part of a large treasure chest bulletin board display.
This self-exploration helps students identify what they do well and celebrate that talent as well as recognize the talents of others.
Sandy Creek superintendent of school Stewart Amell supports the Wisdom Thinkers initiative in the Sandy Creek District and praised those teachers and administrators who have moved the initiative forward.
“These are not just teachers,” he said. “They are teacher leaders.”
He told the group that others in the school district look up to the teachers and through their diligent efforts they have begun to implement the project successfully into the schools and that his job is to support them in the effort.
Sandy Creek Middle School principal Carolyn Shirley said she will incorporate the lessons into her student team meetings.
She meets with the student leaders every other week and the implementation of character education into the meetings is a natural evolution to get middle school students involved.
The stories form a foundation of cross-cultural understanding without having to talk about it in specifics, according to Singh who believes that indifference is the greatest obstacle for change faced by young people today.
Using the stories, he believes that young people will receive the positive message and that the positivity will act as a counterbalance to the negativity that young people are barraged with every day.
It is creating that culture of acceptance and tolerance that will change the outcome.
Singh is often asked by students which story from the book is his favorite one, to which he is quick to say, “My favorite story hasn’t been written yet. My favorite story is the story you will write; the story of your life.”
For more information about the Wisdom Thinkers Network, visit www.wisdomthinkers.org