February 2, 2000 | By: Aimee D. Heald

A national survey of 20,000 high-school and middle school students, conducted by the Josephson Institute, found that seven of 10 admit to cheating on exams in the 12 months preceding the survey. Ninety-two percent said they'd lied in the past year and more than one in three say they would lie to get a job.

Kentucky 4-H leaders work with county Extension agents, volunteers and national leaders to turn the tide and build character in America's youth. The CHARACTER COUNTS!sm Coalition is a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics. The Coalition is a national partnership of organizations and individuals involved in education, training and care of youth.

Michael Josephson, President of the Institute, says the survey shows the hole in our moral ozone is getting bigger, and in terms of honesty and integrity, things are going from bad to worse. That is why the Institute formed the coalition to joined groups who are concerned about the character of today's youth.

"It is important for our youth to learn accepted behavior," Anna Lucas, Extension 4-H specialist for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, said. "We want them to know that the most often identified trait desired in a worker is honesty."

The Character Counts! program is based on six pillars of character including respect, responsibility, caring, trustworthiness, fairness and citizenship. These traits can be taught at each age level with specific and meaningful experiences, designed to emphasize character trait development. This gives leaders the ability to reinforce the six character traits throughout a young person's life.

"Character Counts! is being taught in a variety of ways, such as club meetings, special interest and school enrichment," Lucas said. "The most effective programs involve community leaders, school personnel, the business community and parents, all reinforcing the six pillars of character."

Many counties in Kentucky are using the program. In Hopkins county, Sally Snyder and Cyndi Boggs are using Character Counts! as a special interest program used by a guidance counselor, and pre-school and after-school program teachers.

Five Hopkins county teachers lead a total of 127 students up to fifth grade. Enthusiasm for the program led to a grant that expands the program to the entire school. In one school, Character Counts! is taught each Monday, with a month focusing on each pillar.

Everyone in Owen County's middle school is involved in Character Counts. The principal and teachers feel the program meets some critical needs of youth. Programs are conducted based on the six pillars throughout the year, with groups of 4-Hers doing community service projects to reinforce the commitment of the community and the programs efforts to meet community needs.

Both youth and stakeholders in all participating areas become stakeholders in implementing and evaluating the program. They also get experience planning events in their community. Character Counts! involves a partnership of people who want to improve the moral fiber of their community.

Lucas said several volunteers will attend a southern region Character Counts! conference in Knoxville, Tenn. Feb. 23 through 25. The conference will introduce additional teaching resources and ways of teaching character. When they return to Kentucky, conference participants will be involved in training other teen and adult volunteers to conduct the program.


Anna Lucas 606-257-5961