North Central News

Character Education program expands globally

Laura Pohl

Mar 24, 2022

As K-12 educators work to rebuild their schools’ cultures after the pandemic shutdown, North Central College’s Character Education Certificate has proved to be a vital tool. The certificate was launched in spring 2021 after a pilot program in fall 2020, thanks to funding from a Kern Family Foundation grant.  

Students returning to classrooms after time at home have struggled with how to engage with one another in a positive way. “Teachers and school leaders have been challenged to support students’ anxiety, frustrations and mental health challenges,” said Julie Nagashima, visiting assistant professor of Ethical Leadership and coordinator of the Character Education Certificate Program. “They are feeling very overwhelmed.”  

In addition, issues surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion in schools continues to be a high priority, said Nagashima. “The bottom line is a need to foster ‘cultures of character’ in K-12 schools.” 

North Central College was awarded a $3.2 million grant—the largest private grant in the institution’s history—from the Kern Family Foundation to develop principals and teachers who foster “cultures of character” in their schools. When the grant was announced in December 2018, the certificate was described as a way to enable educators to “become scholars of character development and education.” 

“The Character Education Certificate is an exciting extension of the Leadership, Ethics & Values program’s commitment to developing leaders who are deeply committed to principle; the need for ethical leadership in our current world is very real and very urgent,” said Tom Cavenagh, Schneller Sisters Professor of Leadership, Ethics, and Values.

While the grant framework never anticipated a pandemic, the online delivery of the certificate program is meeting a need for principals, other school leaders and teachers to deal with changes in school culture. 

The certificate encompasses three modules, progressing outward from self-reflection to the classroom environment to the school culture. The curriculum reflects values long entrenched in the College’s Leadership, Ethics and Values program. “One thing that’s important for our educators to reflect on is how their own identities and roles affect their students’ character development,” said Nagashima. “We ask them to envision, early on in the program, what kind of educator they aspire to be.”

To date, seven cohorts totaling 93 educators have enrolled in the certificate program. Most participants have come from Illinois—until the spring 2022 cohort. Online delivery has allowed an extension of the College’s reach beyond Illinois and the United States to an international group of educators working in Seoul, South Korea.  

Participants in the program have experienced new ways to view their schools—and themselves. “I felt that the progression of this class helped me slowly, but deliberately, reflect on the incorporation of character education into my life,” said Danielle Salvatore M ’20, who teaches English at Plainfield South High School in Plainfield, Ill. “I was able to broaden my scope and consider how these values can be utilized in the entire school to benefit everyone.” 

Added Sheldon Davis, dean of students at Downers Grove South High School in Downers Grove, Ill., “This certificate program provided me with a framework and resources that I can use to push my school forward into a better caring community—and a school of character. I will definitely try to implement this in my work as a dean.”  

North Central College’s character education initiatives have expanded to include a partnership between the School of Education and Health Sciences, the School of Graduate and Professional Studies, and the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS). The partnership will provide a 20 percent tuition discount for educators employed by INCS charter schools who enroll in select master’s degree programs at North Central. Read more about it in our press release.

North Central College Professor Julie Nagashima.

Julie Nagashima