A new curriculum introduced at local schools is testing kids on more than just what is on paper.
The 'Character Lives' program reinforces the importance of compassion and servant leadership. At Onalaska High School, students and staff have embraced the new material.
"What are we doing to teach students more than just the academic core classes,which are important," said John Norlin, Co-founder of the 'Character Strong' program. "What the research is coming out and showing heavily is that students need more than that. They also need the character traits, the social and emotional skills."
After seeing a need in the education system, Norlin started 'Character Strong' for middle and high school students across the United States.
"There's enough there for an entire 60 minutes a day for an entire 90 classes for a semester, but it also could be broken up for your customized nature based on what you need for your setting," Norlin said.
Dave Skogen, Chairman of Festival Foods, worked with Norlin to bring a similar program into the Coulee Region.
"Grade points are important, but we'll take character number one," Skogen said.
Students are introduced to the 'Character Lives' program at a young age before they develop habits.
"Let's get them at the age of 12, 13, and 14 years old and teach them to hold the door open for somebody and to listen when somebody's talking to you, look them in the eye," Skogen said. "When you shake their hands, have meaning and purpose in it."
The students learn how to grow as leaders and step out of their comfort zones in school and in life.
"I hope that I'll just be a better leader overall and be able to connect with more people as a leader instead of shying away from it," said Adam Buege, Onalaska High School Senior. "Just to do it."
"Business communities are getting fussier about who they allow on their team," Skogen said. "They're looking for people of character. Plain and simple."
"There's such a hotbed of business leaders who are about servant leadership in this area and character development," Norlin said. "It doesn't surprise me, but it is unique that you have a community who is saying, 'This is important, and we're willing to do the work to get this in the schools.'"
Skogen said it is the community support that will continue to drive 'Character Lives' forward. Like many things in life, the program comes at a cost. He plans to ask business leaders and community members to consider funding the program. Organizers of 'Character Lives' said the program needs $600,000 to continue growing in local schools.