Committee on Education and the Workforce

Testimony of Ms. Karen Schoenfeld

Committee on Education and the Workforce
  U.S. House of Representatives
June 25, 2002


     Good afternoon. My name is Karen Schoenfeld. I am a Coordinator of LaCrossroads High School, a charter school for at-risk adolescents, of the School District of LaCrosse, LaCrosse WI. Professionally, I am a School Counselor and a Charter School Teacher. I have worked with at-risk adolescents in public and private schools since 1989. I have a Master’s Degree in School Counseling and a Master’s Degree in Education.

     Today I will share with you how the School District of LaCrosse has made character education a priority. I will then highlight the inclusion of character education within one of the schools in our District.

Character Education – Throughout An Entire District

     The School District of LaCrosse serves more than 7,500 youth. There are 21 schools within this district. The School District is a composite of city and rural areas.

     Several years ago a committee made up of diverse community and school members agreed upon a set of core values which they believed vital to building character in young people. These values are: Honesty, Respect, Responsibility, Compassion, Self-discipline, Perseverance, and Giving. Committee members proposed that the School Board would adopt these values as a policy. The Board of Education concurred and instituted a Core Value Policy. It was the hope of the School Board that (1) staff would exemplify and, thus, role model these values while (2) the schools would utilize these values to help our young people develop a keen sense of personal and civic responsibility.

     On-going staff training helps us achieve the first goal of staff becoming role models of these core values. Staff have had numerous in-services relating to the values. Within recent years, our District has included training in Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Our second goal – to reach students – is achieved by having each building develop policies and procedures aligned by these core values while providing character education.

Character Education – Within One School

     Let me now highlight the inclusion of character education within one of the schools in this district – LaCrossroads High School. As I’ve mentioned, LaCrossroads serves at-risk adolescents. Youth who come to us are at least one year behind in credits and, typically, significantly behind in their academic skills. They are clearly at risk of failing to graduate from high school. They present additional at-risk behaviors which include one or more of the following: low self-esteem, poverty, family neglect or abuse, pregnancy, illegal chemical use (drugs & tobacco), truancy, delinquency, running away from home, disaffection with school and community, disengaged in the learning process, lack of extended family, lack of connection to their community, and lack of occupational skills and goals. Is there a need here for character building? The answer is clearly "yes".

     We face an extraordinary challenge with these at-risk youth. As much or more than any other student population, these young people have had little, if any, training or role modeling in character. In fact, they often display the very antithesis of the attributes promoted in character education.

     So, how do we do it? How do we take these diamonds in the extreme rough and turn out some good people? Good parents, good workers, good neighbors, people who give back instead of taking back. The key – character education.

     LaCrossroads offers these elements which teach youth character:

  • One period per day devoted to character education
  • Utilizing the teachable moments – teaching conflict resolution and problem solving during crises
  • Peer mediation – helping each other resolve conflict
  • Student government – learning about democracy and how to lead
  • Service Learning Projects – learning through volunteer work
  • Mentor partnership with Rotary International
  • One room schoolhouse environment - taking care of each other
  • Bringing in community guests to make valuable linkages
  • Holding youth accountable for their choices - rewarding behavior exemplifying good character while disciplining negative behavior

      And the result? Excellent! The majority of our youth not only leave with a high school diploma and academic skills but they leave with much more. They leave knowing:

The need for and value of honesty
That differences in others is good and to be respected
The rewards attached to responsibility
A sense of compassion for others
The need for self-discipline
That perseverance is needed to reach your goals
The beauty of giving to others


     One program at a time, one school at a time, the School District of LaCrosse epitomizes how character education can be the underpinnings of an excellent educational system. We really are turning out young people who will not only be successful in their lives but who will become welcome members of our community.


School District of La Crosse Administrative Policies and Regulations
Core Values

     The School District of La Crosse is concerned with the ethical and moral dimension of a young person’s life. A goal is to assure that all students, on leaving school, will have developed a keen sense of personal and civic responsibility. To that end the District believes that all staff members should affirm for themselves, for our students, and for other staff members the following Core Values:

Honesty           Each person carries out his or her responsibilities carefully and with integrity, never claiming credit for someone else’s work and being willing to acknowledge wrongdoing. Students and staff share their ideas openly, in a climate of trust, with confidence that what is written and spoken honestly expressed and that all people are trustworthy.

Respect           Each person responds sensitively to the ideas and needs of others without dismissing or degrading them. Differences among people are celebrated, and all members of the community are able to accept both praise and constructive suggestions from others. While affirming individual freedom, the rights of the group are also fully honored.

Responsibility  Each person has a sense of duty to fulfill willingly the tasks he or she has accepted or has been assigned. All work is conscientiously performed.  Members of the community feel comfortable asking for help and agree that they must be held accountable for their behavior.

Compassion      Each person is considerate and caring. There is a recognition that everyone, from time to time, feels hurt, confused, angry, or sad. Instead of ignoring such conditions, people reach out to one another. In the case of conflict, members of the community seek reconciliation and try to understand each other, even forgive.

Self-discipline    Each person agrees to live within limits, not only the ones mutually agreed upon, but, above all, those established personally.  Self-discipline is exercised in relationships with others, especially in the way people speak to one another. Self-discipline also applies to the use of time.  At the simplest level, self-control reflects habits of good living.

Perseverance     Each person is diligent, with the inner strength and determination to pursue well-defined goals. It does matter that a task be completed once begun, and to persevere not only teaches discipline, but brings rewards as well. Each person pushes hard to complete assignments, and all members of the community willingly support others in their work.

Giving                 Each person discovers that one of life’s greatest satisfactions comes from  giving to others, and recognizes that talents should be shared, through service. Rather than waiting to be asked, members of the community look for opportunities to respond positively to the needs of others, without expectation of reward.