SAN FRANCISCO - Every day, Sentinel Career and Technology Center students are wished a terrific day.
But, at Sentinel, "terrific" is spelled "TRRFCC" - which stands for trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. They are the six pillars of character and the moral compass Sentinel students and staff strive to follow daily.
Director Elissa Heal said Sentinel places equal emphasis on character education, technical skills and academics. By having a character education program, officials hope to engage and inspire students' and staff members' hearts and minds, she said.
She said it is difficult to define character education. The administration believes character education is one of the reasons Sentinel is successful, she said.
"Hopefully, we've created an environment here that is welcoming and conducive to learning. ... (Character education) is a culture," she said.
Heal said every activity with staff or students requires reflection on the pillars of character.
"We start the year with a school motto related to character education and being a team," she said.
Sentinel, which is part of Vanguard-Sentinel Career and Technology Centers, started its character education program in 1999. It was named an Ohio School of Character in 2009 and 2010 and an Ohio Emerging School of Character in 2008.
When Sentinel was named an Ohio School of Character, its application was sent on to the next level for evaluation. This year, it became a National School of Character finalist for the first time.
All finalists receive a site visit by National School of Character evaluators, and Barbara Luther and Pat Tibbetts from Character Education Partnership visited Sentinel in April to examine its program.
"Sentinel is to be commended for so clearly linking performance character and the workplace. Values are clearly lived by the school staff as they create a caring environment and panel members were highly impressed with the exemplary work of this caring and dedicated staff," according to a note written by the blue-ribbon panel.
Heal said this year is the first time the career center has gone through the entire process.
"It's been very humbling for us," she said.
Sentinel, which has about 500 students in 16 career programs, is the first career center in the country to be named a National School of Character in the award program's 12 years of existence. Staff who traveled to Character Education Partnership's National Forum on Character Education conference in San Francisco are Heal; Greg Edinger, superintendent; Allen Schultz, Career Pathways coordinator; Sandy Reinhart, medical technology instructor; and Cathy Sorg, academy of business instructor and chairwoman of Sentinel's character education committee.
They are to accept the award Friday.
Sentinel made it a goal to become a National School of Character and continue to improve its character education program. Even though it has achieved the national designation, officials want to continue to improve the program and help other districts and schools start programs.
Heal and Assistant Director Bryan Zimmerman already have been offering assistance to Tiffin City Schools. Tuesday, Tiffin City Board of Education approved various initiatives as part of the Charting The Course process, and character education is one of them.
Heal said the goal is to work with other districts and schools around Ohio and the United States. Everyone is going to develop their own program, and she said she hopes Sentinel officials can help.
"Not everything you try is going to work," she said.
David Danhoff, Vanguard-Sentinel's superintendent from 2002 to 2008, is the superintendent for Willard City Schools. The district is to implement a character education program, and Hank Elchert, who helped implement it at Sentinel, presented information to the staff.
"We believe in it," Danhoff said.
Bob Brickner, who preceded Danhoff as Vanguard-Sentinel's superintendent, said the National School of Character award is well-deserved. He said he was happy, but not surprised, to hear the career center was selected.
He said he thought Sentinel had a great shot to be honored when site visitors came out to study the career center.
"It was a great program," he said.