The Brilla College Preparatory Charter Schools have incorporated the World Youth Alliance’s Human Dignity Curriculum (HDC) into their character initiatives approach, which seeks “to educate students to lead lives of excellence, virtue and purpose.” El Camino, a faith formation program that partners with Brilla College Preparatory Charter Schools, served as an HDC pilot site for two years prior to this incorporation.
WYA staff trained Brilla teachers in the HDC earlier this month, and a number of staff will be trained as FEMM Teachers for school needs this fall. Adding one grade every year, the two Brilla campuses in the Bronx, NY, currently serve students in grades K-5. The schools will teach the HDC to all students across grades K-8, and introduce teenFEMM and teenMEN programming for students beginning with the 5th grade.
The HDC serves as the universal foundation for character formation curricula during the first several weeks of the school year. Brandon Bielagus, a 4th grade teacher and Character Initiatives Lead for Brilla Elementary, notes that the “HDC provides a macro approach to character development that will be coherently paired with our pre-existing Character Initiatives curricula (PATHS, Cardinal Virtue study, etc.). The big picture ideas, such as the superpowers of life, seems to have the potential to ground young scholars’ minds in a way that promotes community building through understanding of self and others.”
The schools’ internally-developed virtue study examines four core virtue and sixteen sub-virtues, alongside other tools designed for relationship-building, problem-solving, and restorative practices efforts among students. According to Jolleen Wagner, Director of Character Initiatives for Brilla Charter Schools Network, the HDC offers the basic sense of the self and others that PATHs Curriculum complements with skill-building, and that the schools’ programs enforce—and helps students and teachers internalize why skills, virtue-building, and these practices are important.
“We’re not used to teaching kids about themselves, their self-worth, and everyone else’s self-worth—teaching this is really cool,” says Jessica Boisen, a 5th grade teacher. Brilla staff recognized that, as many students have received the message that they don’t have human dignity, teaching it is the start. Beginning with the value of the person as a foundation, and building out a greater understanding of the person from there, becomes “really meaningful,” says Korleen Brady, coordinator of student services, whose own favorite lesson to teach is on students’ internal senses of imagination, memory, and instinct. “It’s really amazing to watch the lightbulb turn on for students.”
The HDC will influence the way students and staff understand and encounter dignity. This deepened understanding will strengthen the schools communities’ ability to relate to and love one another.