CITRS, The Character Council of Western New York, and Character Counts! would like to thank all the guests and panel members who attended Wednesday’s Panel Series Discussion hosted by the Buffalo History Museum. The evening was an engaging opportunity for the community to celebrate the completion of the first full school year of the Buffalo Public School District’s Character Development Initiative. Approximately 200 guests were in attendance from members of the business and philanthropic community, Buffalo City government, police department, other nonprofit community organizations, as well as professional athletes, notable community members, and administration, principals and staff from the Buffalo Public Schools and surrounding area school districts.
Panelists and Hosts from Left to Right: Demario Strickland (Principal of Harvey Austin School #97), James M. Wadsworth (Former President of the John R. Oishei Foundation's Board of Directors), Suzanne Bracci (President of the Character Council of Western New York), Clay Hamlin (Co-Founder of CITRS and Buffalo Native), Melissa Nunez (Chief Operating Officer of CITRS), Colleen Cunningham (Supervisor of the Buffalo Public School District's Office of School Leadership), Dr. Gary Smit (Master Trainer of CHARACTER COUNTS!), Heidi Milch (Executive Director of Community Connections of New York, Inc.), and Sarah Carney (Operations Assistant).
This initiative has, so far, touched the lives of nearly 14,000 Buffalo children and their families, across 21 schools. It is the largest comprehensive character development program in the nation. We believe that the ongoing dedication to improving the daily lives and future prospects of Buffalo’s children will help put Buffalo in the national spotlight and greatly improve the overall community. The panel covered a variety of topics, including the initial motivations behind the initiative, the tools and materials provided through the initiative, and firsthand accounts of the initiative’s progress to date across all the participating schools. Guests were introduced to the statistical measures of success that the initiative uses to gauge the schools’ progress, and the ongoing efforts to grow the solid foundation that the schools have built as the initiative moved into its second year. During an insightful Question and Answer session, the panel was able to address some concerns presented by the
community members, as well as expand on some of the salient features of the initiative.
During the reception, guests were able to engage in a more casual dialogue with the panelists. Over and over, guests recalled a comment made by Dr. Gary Smit, “We all know students who have aced their classes, but who have failed in life. What can we do to give all of our students the true tools they need to succeed?” For Lorene Boyd, Dean of Students at West Hertel Academy, the answer is: “Character Counts! is essential. The skills they teach all come together, they become one. I would like to see this program all throughout the city.” This initiative is a springboard for all of Western New York School Districts and other youth education programs. Even more importantly, Western New York has the opportunity to become the national leader in comprehensive character development.