Character building using Gospel values, the way forward for Aquinas boys

30 June 2022

The theme for this year’s International Men’s Health Week (13 to 19 June) Building Healthy Environments for Men and Boys is no stranger to the culture of Aquinas College.

In 2017, Principal David McFadden, together with his leadership team, examined two frameworks that would inspire the cultural way forward for the all-boy school students.

Aquinas Director of Character Education and Leadership, Mark Weston said the journey taken by the school had achieved significant outcomes.

The first framework, Redesigning the Curriculum for a 21st Century Education, focused on expanding in the areas of knowledge, skills, character, and meta learning.

The second framework, from the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham, identified that schools should focus on building student character in an intentional, proactive and comprehensive way.

The Aquinas leadership team began their journey by applying the ‘character is taught’ practice, with the introduction of character education classes referred to as ‘Veritas’. The creation of the Veritas Program led to the role of Character Education Specialist given to a lead teacher from each of the junior and secondary schools.

In 2019, the second stage of character building, incorporated the practice ‘character is sought’. The college prioritised to provide students with many authentic opportunities to put into practice the character virtues they learned through the Veritas Program. The motto ‘Human Kind – Be Both’ was developed by students and was applied in the Junior School. This helped the boys understand the importance of caring deeply for others.

Education at Aquinas College not only teaches information about character, virtues, faith, spirituality, justice, advocacy, and the human condition – but also deliberately builds competence and confidence within young men to enable them to be the best they can be for others.”

Principal David McFadden

A Mentoring Program saw Year 9 students visit junior classes twice a week, to support the younger boys in reading, maths, spelling, STEM, sport, or any number of tasks requested by the teacher. Through this experience, Mr Weston said junior school students not only gained assistance and help, but the Year 9 mentors were able to develop their emerging leadership skills.

Year 9 mentor Jay Mutter said helping his younger peers with their music and reading skills was a rewarding feeling.

“I feel I’ve made a difference by steering them on the right track and helping them get back to their work.”

As part of their Justice & Advocacy class, Year 8 students were tasked to produce an advocacy presentation. Students were taught how to think critically, work collaboratively, work towards becoming problem solvers, and communicate effectively.

Kiran Bhat along with two classmates, presented on deforestation and its’ effects on endangered species. He said this task helped him develop new character traits including leadership, working with peers, and confidence.

“I have also learned about justice, activism, and advocacy through the research of my topic. This was one of the most memorable moments I have had at Aquinas.”

The concept of a ‘Man Box’ was used by the college to identify the ‘character is sought’ practice. Teachers encouraged students to develop empathy, kindness, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Year 9 students enrolled in a six-week intensive dance program which concluded with a performance by students for friends and family.

The final stage of implementing character education was to promote the practice of ‘character is caught.’ Staff were embedded with the vision and mission of the college’s new-found practices. Staff development days helped equip teachers manage the expectation of modelling good character, so that the boys see it being lived out across all aspects of the college.

“Character education now permeates the curriculum and complements the traditional formation programs of the college. It is contributing to the ideal destination of educating boys to become men the world needs,” Mr Weston said.

“For this to become a reality, character education at Aquinas College not only teaches information about character, virtues, faith, spirituality, justice, advocacy, and the human condition – but also deliberately builds competence and confidence within young men to enable them to be the best they can be for others,” Principal David McFadden concluded.

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