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Innovative Program For High School Seniors

This year at Kennesaw Mountain High School, in Kennesaw, Georgia, we decided to go a different direction with our seniors for character education. The reasons?


First, seniors have concerns that are different from the other grades. They're worried about college, careers, and a major change in life. Why not address those felt needs, which naturally overlap with character?


Second, seniors think they've heard all the traditional character stuff. They want new information. Announce to your class that, for the fourth year in a row, we're teaching a lesson on integrity, and their minds automatically go into neutral, assuming "been there; done that."


Third, seniors would love to have more input, showing that we respect them for their insights.

For these reasons, we're trying something different with our Seniors. Many of them mentor freshman classrooms and local middle schools. The Seniors who are left (about 500), gather into our theater and blast our panelists with questions. The students seem to be responding well, enjoying the interaction and getting a lot out of it. Here's how it works.


Step #1: Get Senior Input to Determine Topics.

Students listen more attentively and are more engaged when they're getting new and needed information. So, we surveyed many of the seniors, asking them what they feel they most need in order to make it after high school, things they didn't learn already. Here's the survey we used. Feel free to use or revise it for your needs.


Help Us Design This Year's Character Program!
(Circle each that interest you. Star the most important ones.)

  1. I need help making relationships work.
  2. How can I learn over a lifetime?
  3. I need advice about college.
  4. How can I select the best vocation?
  5. Life impact: I'd like to make a difference with my life. How can I?
  6. How can I find a purpose in life?
  7. My family life stinks. How can I improve it?
  8. I need motivation to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
  9. I need help developing personal discipline.
  10. How can I accumulate wealth?
  11. How can I manage my money better?
  12. How can I make more of my time?
  13. I need help setting and accomplishing goals.
  14. How can I overcome ____________________?
  15. I can't seem to find happiness.
  16. I need help with dating and choosing a mate.
  17. Here's my biggest problem finding success in school ______________________.
  18. What are your biggest concerns or fears that we might help with? ____________________________
  19. What moral or character direction do you need?  _____________
  20. I think our biggest problems in our school are:
    • Teachers don't respect students.
    • Students don't respect other students.
    • Cheating.
    • Fear of bullies.
    • Lack of sympathy from teachers.
    • Students are lazy.
    • Students are unfriendly.
    • Other - ________________

Thanks for your input!

Your Character Education Leaders


From their input, we took their main responses and found that their main concerns could be addressed under seven topics and taught one month at a time:

  1. October: Preparing for College
  2. November: Preparing for and Finding a Vocation You Love
  3. December: How Successful People Manage Their Time
  4. January: Money Management #1: Avoiding Debt and Accumulating Wealth
  5. February: Money Management #2: Practical Money Tips
  6. March: A Key to Success in Three Words: Relationships, Relationships, Relationships
  7. April: Workplace Ethics

By consulting the seniors, we show them respect for their ideas. Additionally, we leverage their involvement and attention during sessions: "Remember, this is a topic YOU told us that YOU wanted." By responding to felt needs, we know we're scratching where they itch. 



Step #2: Line Up Your Panelists.

The panelists are key! If you can't find a reliable team to delegate to, find them yourself. We find panelists who:

  • know the topic,
  • won't hog the spotlight, and
  • relate naturally to students.

We're given one 50 minute class per month. We've found that 3 panelists are plenty; more than three wouldn't give each enough time to share.


Example: For our panelists concerning college prep, our panelists included an expert in college financial aid; a local college admissions counselor; and a college senior. 


We tell panelists:

  • We're all volunteers; our only pay is our gratitude.
  • We've giving our MC the responsibility to keep the conversation moving. He may break in if you speak too long.
  • We want this to be fun, spontaneous and informative. If you disagree with another panelist, feel free to throw in your opinion.


Step #3: Line Up An MC.

We use a local college pastor who recently graduated from college. As a former teacher's assistant in college, he was used to taking a mike around and asking questions of students. Being young, he's a natural bridge between the students and the adults on the panel. Again, this person is key. Ask someone to do it once. If it goes well, invite him/her to do it the rest of the year.


MC responsibilities include:

  1. Asking questions of the panelists from a list of questions (turned in earlier by students to their teachers or to us directly.)
  2. Fielding spontaneous questions raised by the students.
  3. Asking follow-up questions if needed.
  4. Keeping the discussion moving if a panelist drones on.


Step #4 (Optional): Set up a Website to take questions and provide more information.

We found that students weren't writing things down. Handouts might get left in their seats. Yet, they needed a place to find the information when they needed on a site for financial aid, a book on finding a job

an e-mail address to ask a question. 


Our solution was to put the information on the Web. Perhaps your Web Design class or technology club can take it on as a project.


You can see what we're doing on this page and the linked pages:



Feel free to use the material from our site for yours if you find it helpful, or even refer your seniors to this site if you're covering similar topics. Once it's set up, we can simply revise it from year to year. (The stock photos were bought from www.istockphoto.com for $1 each.)  


If you try something with your seniors that's working, please let us know!



Steve Miller, Legacy Educational Resources. Copyright October, 2004, smillero@mindspring.com , working under Billy Richardson at Kennesaw Mountain High School. .