Character Education & COVID-19: How to Build Confident, Engaged Learners Now - Online Summit

Free Online Event: Character Education & COVID-19: How to Build Confident, Engaged Learners Now

Download a PDF of the key takeaways

COVID-19 toppled every best-laid plan that schools had for the final months of the 2019-2020 academic year. Beginning in March, as educators scrambled to figure out their best instructional options, they often struggled to get a sense of whether their students even had some of their basic needs covered, like internet access or a space to work, in order to pursue remote learning. When in late May, as the pandemic continued unabated, the largest movement in U.S. history erupted with a national call for racial justice. Students and their educators stood up and took notice. This summit will explore how teachers and school and district leaders can encourage the development of agency, self-empowerment, and well-being among their students during the convergence of these two historic events.

Many stories are coming to light of educators working with young people, taking advantage of this inflection point to help define, build, and develop with students what it means to reflect on their own well-being, as well as serve the larger, collective good. There are also accounts of young people leading the charge in some instances, demonstrating motivation, leadership, commitment to community, and civic awareness in ways that no one could have anticipated. What does that look like? And who are the educators—and the students—who are leading this charge? What lessons can educators, researchers, and policymakers glean from these examples in order to apply them to learning going forward? And what might these promising approaches of elevating character have to say about the future direction of our schools, social institutions, and workforce?

This online summit will explore practical and promising approaches for incorporating elements of character education into educational experiences and why it matters.

Thank you to those who joined us for this event, which took place on Sept. 22, 2020.


September 22, 2020
1-2:30 p.m. ET

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  • 1:00–2:30 p.m. ET | Discussions Open

    A Blueprint for Student Empowerment
    Moderator: Mary Hendrie, Deputy Opinion Editor, Education Week
    ‣ We say we want to prepare students to be active and engaged citizens, but what does that actually look like? What do student-activists learn from their firsthand experiences with democracy? And how can educators support, rather than hinder, students in their activist efforts?
    Janaan Ahmed, Former Student Representative, Minneapolis Public School Board of Education
    Brandon Griggs, High School Senior and Student Activist, Jacksonville, Fla.
    Maggie Di Sanza, High School Senior and Founder of Bleed Shamelessly

    Civic Engagement and Student Leadership in a Virtual Environment
    Stephen Sawchuk, Associate Editor, Education Week
    Dominique Bander, Editorial Opinion Intern, Education Week
    ‣ In the time of the coronavirus and reckoning on racism, youths around the country are seeing the importance of activism and civic engagement. What does this kind of work look like during the pandemic and the national call for racial justice? How can school leaders incorporate this work to encourage student leadership and civic engagement?
    Voncia Monchais, Youth Engagement Director, Mikva Challenge DC
    Saniya Sah, Freshman, Northeastern University, Boston, Mass.

    Making Meaningful Connections in a Virtual World
    Moderator: Lesli A. Maxwell, Managing Editor, Education Week
    ‣ School is about much more than academics, but relational and character-based skills have proven harder to cultivate remotely. How can educators and school leaders make space for students to connect to their own identities, the experiences of others, and to a learning community amid this global crisis—and why does it matter? How should our schools prepare students to enter into a world with so much uncertainty?
    Jill Gurtner, Principal, Clark Street Community School, Middleton, Wis.

    Why Sports Matter More Than Ever: A Case Study in Virtual Athletics
    Moderator: Kevin Bushweller, Assistant Managing Editor, Education Week
    ‣ Sports seasons were canceled but athletics were not at one high school in Vermont after the COVID-19 shutdown. School leaders reasoned that building community and character—the intertwined goals of their sports program—was more critical than ever in the pandemic, so administrators retained their coaches, and the coaches rallied their teams. What can other schools learn from this experiment in remote athletics?
    Patrick Burke, Principal, South Burlington High School, Vt.
    Michael Jabour, Student Activities Director, South Burlington High School, Vt.
    Aaron Murakami, Senior, South Burlington High School, Vt.

    Empowering Students to Cultivate Their Passions
    Moderator: Bess Keller, Senior Contributing Editor, Education Week
    ‣ Too often student success is gauged by performance on standardized tests, with Black, Latinx, and other historically marginalized students often deemed to be "behind." What happens when students are empowered to cultivate their own passions and shape their learning environment? How can that change both outcomes for students and the effectiveness of schools? What can educators do to make student-centered success a reality?
    Azadi Mathew-Lewis, Freshman, Hampton University
    Nicole Williams Beechum, Senior Research Analyst, University of Chicago Consortium for School Research

    Strengthening Student & Adult Social-Emotional Learning Through SEL Measurement + Interventions
    Moderator: Katharine Quigley, Panorama Education
    ‣ Strengthening your Tier 1 universal supports with social-emotional learning as well as providing targeted SEL interventions this fall will be more important than ever before. Panorama helps districts support students' social-emotional learning skills for students and adults with our SEL measurement tools, SEL intervention platform, and SEL Playbook. Join the conversation to receive open-source resources for supporting student and adult SEL, as well as learn how districts across the country are gaining critical SEL competencies and cultivating school connectedness, teacher-student relationships, and sense of belonging.
    Dr. Tara Chiatovich, Research and Data Scientist, Panorama Education

Guests, Speakers, and Moderators

Janaan Ahmed
Former Student Representative, Minneapolis Public School Board of Education

Ahmed is an 18-year-old former student representative on the Minneapolis Public School Board of Education. Currently, Ahmed is a full-time student at Minneapolis Community College pursuing an Associate of Science in education.

Dominique Bander
Editorial Opinion Intern, Education Week

Bander is an editorial opinion intern at Education Week. She graduated from Loyola University Maryland in 2018.

Patrick Burke
Principal, South Burlington High School, Vt.

Burke is the principal of South Burlington High School. He has worked at South Burlington High School since 1998. He was honored as Vermont’s Principal of the Year in 2005 and was named a National Distinguished Principal in 2006. He graduated from Connecticut College with a B.A. in Government, is a graduate of the University of Vermont’s Snelling Center for Government’s Leadership Project, studied at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, the Principals’ Center at Harvard University and earned a M.Ed. in educational leadership from Vermont College.

Kevin Bushweller
Assistant Managing Editor and Executive Editor of Ed Tech Leader, Education Week

Bushweller is an assistant managing editor for Education Week who oversees coverage of educational technology, learning environments, and the K-12 marketplace. Bushweller, the executive editor of EdWeek Tech Leader, a news service for ed-tech leaders in K-12 education, is also the executive project editor of Technology Counts, Education Week’s annual report about the state of educational technology in U.S. schools. Earlier in his career, he was a senior editor for American School Board Journal and Electronic School magazines.

Maggie Di Sanza
High School Senior and Founder of Bleed Shamelessly

Di Sanza is a 17-year-old high school senior who lives in Madison, Wis. She is the founder of the youth-led organization Bleed Shamelessly, which works to end period poverty in Southern Wisconsin and promote reproductive equity and justice.

Brandon Griggs
High School Senior and Student Activist, Jacksonville, Fla.

Griggs is a high school senior and a student activist and advocate for at-risk youths in Jacksonville, Fla. He was appointed to serve on his City Council's Commission on Safety and Crime Reduction. He also works as a national spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice and is the founder of Hear the Youth.

Jill Gurtner
Principal, Clark Street Community School, Middleton, Wis.

Gurtner is the principal of Clark Street Community School in Middleton, Wis. She has been a high school administrator for more than 25 years. Previously, she taught high school science.

Mary Hendrie
Deputy Opinion Editor, Education Week

Hendrie is the deputy opinion editor at Education Week, where she worked since 2013 to showcase a range of outside voices from the education field. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science and Chinese from the University of Notre Dame.

Michael Jabour
Student Activities Director, South Burlington High School, Vt.

Jabour is entering his fourth year as student activities director at his alma mater South Burlington High School. Before South Burlington, Jabour was the athletic director for Milton Town School District. He was there for three years. Jabour grew up in Vermont, and got his degree in Athletic Administration from Castleton Unveristy. He is a certified athletic administrator.

Bess Keller
Senior Contributing Editor, Education Week

Keller is a senior contributing editor. She worked for Education Week as a reporter covering teachers, school leaders, and school finance from 1997 to 2008 and has also covered education at a local level.

Azadi Mathew-Lewis
Freshman, Hampton University

Mathew-Lewis is a recent graduate of Kenwood Academy High School in Chicago and is currently a freshman at Hampton University. His interests include playing the trumpet and running his home bike service.

Lesli A. Maxwell
Managing Editor, Education Week

Maxwell is the managing editor for Education Week. She is the author of The Savvy Principal, a weekly newsletter for school leaders. For five years, she oversaw Education Week’s annual Leaders To Learn From special report that showcases outstanding district-level leadership. Maxwell began working at Education Week in 2006 as a reporter. She previously was a state government and higher education reporter for The Sacramento Bee and The Fresno Bee in California. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Missouri, Columbia, and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.

Voncia Monchais
Youth Engagement Director, Mikva Challenge DC

Raised by civil rights activists, Monchais has always been passionate about social justice, equal opportunity, and empowerment of those on the margin. A proud graduate from the University of Pennsylvania (Bachelor's degree) and Florida International University (Master's degree), she has dedicated the last 15 years of her career to youth empowerment work, first as an AP Government and African American History high school teacher in Miami for 8 years, then in the nonprofit youth advocacy sector. Voncia has spent the last 7 years in Washington, D.C., as a creative educator outside of the classroom, Dream Director, life coach, master trainer, and designer and facilitator of transformational experiences—all in service of empowering young people to make a difference in the world by living out their purpose, passion, and power. In her current position, she leads local and national youth programming as the Youth Engagement Director at Mikva Challenge, a national civic engagement nonprofit that aims to develop empowered, informed, and active citizens by having youth actively participate in first-hand Action Civics experiences to "make democracy a verb!"

Aaron Murakami
Senior, South Burlington High School, Vt.

Murakami is a senior at South Burlington High School and a three-season athlete: volleyball in the fall, bowling in the winter, and lacrosse in the spring.

Saniya Sah
Freshman, Northeastern University, Boston, Mass.

Sah is 18 years old and lives in St. Louis, Mo. She is a freshman at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass., and is planning to major in political science. She recently served as a civic engagement leader on Mikva Challenge's National Youth Response Movement, where she helped to draft policy recommendations to make schools more just and equitable places that put mental health and student voice at the center of the school experience.

Stephen Sawchuk
Associate Editor, Education Week

Sawchuk covers superintendents, district management, school safety, and civics education for Education Week. He joined the newspaper in 2008 and formerly covered the teaching profession, curriculum and instruction. He holds degrees from Georgetown and Columbia universities and was a 2017 Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan.

Nicole Williams Beechum
Senior Research Analyst, University of Chicago Consortium for School Research

Williams Beechum is a senior research analyst in the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research and a trained social worker. Her research interests include the transition to high school and postsecondary opportunities, teacher-student relationships, and how noncognitive factors contribute to student success.

Development of independent content for this virtual summit is supported in part by a grant from The Kern Family Foundation.

Development of independent content for this virtual summit is supported in part by a grant from The Kern Family Foundation


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