Kern grant launches Character Education center

Canyon Center for Character Education Director Emily Farkas says school leaders can be models of good character.

Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau

The Kern Family Foundation has awarded a $2.27 million grant to Grand Canyon University to launch the Canyon Center for Character Education.

The three-year grant will be used to elevate character formation among pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students and support current and aspiring educators to advance character education.

The GCU center will enhance the curriculum and deepen the emphasis on virtue and character education in GCU’s master’s programs in educational leadership. A virtual professional learning lab will be launched for students, alumni and partner schools as well as character education conferences and summits on campus.

Character education helps students acquire and strengthen virtues to create well-rounded individuals who contribute to society, said Canyon Center for Character Education Director Emily Farkas.

“A lot of it is thinking how to better yourself as a human being and better the people around you so you can have a happy and functioning society,” said Farkas, whose background includes selection to the competitive graduate program in character education at the University of Birmingham in England.

The Canyon Center for Character Education is scheduled to launch in July.

The Kern Family Foundation initially awarded GCU $75,000 in 2019 for enhancements to the master’s educational leadership programs and for COE’s character education conference in December.

COE Dean Dr. Meredith Critchfield said character education goes to the heart of GCU’s mission.

“As a Christian university, we already bring virtues into our classrooms every day, but now we have funding to make it more intentional,” she said.

Character is infused in the ecosystem of a school, not just in the curriculum and teachers, but also administration and staff.

It promotes an environment of caring and flourishing and a positive school climate with respect, responsibility, citizenship and trustworthiness. It fosters an environment for kindness and patience plus ways to expand them, everything from classroom discussions on honesty to holding days of gratitude.

“It is creating a school where there are leaders and teachers who model virtue, where there is a clear mission and vision around virtuous behavior,” Critchfield said.

“We are always teaching students what we value, so to me what we need to do is really make those virtues that we value explicit. Sometimes the lessons we end up teaching our students are not the good ones because we haven’t made it explicit what we are as a school community.”

Dr. Meredith Critchfield

It may be different for every school based on the needs of the community and on the values most important to the school.

Farkas, a key leader on the work of the initial grant, said that character education is “caught, taught and sought.”

Character can be “caught” by students who witness their teachers with great character. It can be taught in a more specialized focus – pointing out the character of subjects in literature, for example. Eventually, students seek ways to develop their own character.

Character education gained attention in the early 1990s and has expanded in the last 20 years.

“It is needed more now than ever before,” Critchfield said. “We have a fractured world and have really fractured school settings and really fractured feelings about the school. So when all of that comes together you have this perfect storm, where virtues fall by the wayside or are lost or forgotten in schools and by parents.

“What is the purpose of schooling if we are not going to develop a better human who helps make the world a better place? And you do that with virtue. There is no greater purpose.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.


Related content:

GCU Today: GCU conference aims to heal with character

GCU Today: Panel of educators focuses on character, culture


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