The Institute Report,April 2013, Page 7
In Local Middle School, Cadets
Teach – and Learn – Values
For the past two years, Micah Hosler ’14 has been spending an hour
each week in a middle school classroom as part of VMI’s Character
Counts program. He’s been teaching the students values, but they’ve
also taught him – about leadership and about the subtleties of the moral
precepts he urges them to follow.
As cadet in charge of the program, Hosler helps coordinate groups of
two or three cadets who, with a faculty or staff adviser, visit classrooms
at Lexington’s Lylburn Downing Middle School to teach the “six pillars
of character”: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring,
and citizenship. Col. James Park, VMI chaplain, creates the lesson plans,
which the cadets then prepare to teach.
“I feel that true lessons and sincerity come from the heart, so I like to
improvise in front of the kids,” said Hosler. “I also like to incorporate
serious, personal examples … that usually grab their attention more
than I feel a rehearsed lesson plan could do.”
Many of the cadets, faculty, and staff who participate in Character
Counts draw on personal experience, if not in their lessons then in their
motivation to invest themselves in the program.
On a recent visit to the school, Maj. Chris Perry, recalling the example
and standards set by his coaches when he was in school, asked a group
of sixth-graders whom they looked up to, whose strong moral character
they aspired to emulate. The question was greeted by silence from the
students, who had readily volunteered answers to previous questions.
“It’s kind of sad to see that they don’t have someone that they can
say, ‘Oh, I look up to that person,’” said Perry, assistant commandant
for cadet life. “One of the biggest things I see today is them not having
the positive mentors, the positive role models.” Character Counts seeks
to fill a void for these students, but that can only happen where cadets
are able to communicate effectively, which they find easier with sixth-
graders fresh out of elementary school than with eighth-graders focused
on moving on to high school.
Hosler said he strategizes to lead the children to think productively
about values, rather than telling the children what to believe.
“I ask the children questions and word them in a way that they learn
something from their own answers,” he said. “If I ask them a question
and their new answers contradict their previous thoughts, they themselves
draw the link to the point I’m making.”
Perry notes that engaging eighth-graders means making them see how
the lesson relates to their current lives and their future experiences,
especially in the coming first year of high school. And it helps, he said,
to have a voice that carries if the students seem tempted to take the
discussion off course.
But for the cadets, the program offers an opportunity to get out into
the local community and serve, said Parker Cantelou ’14, who, with Leah
Schubel ’13 has taken on the challenge of an eighth grade class.
For some, it’s also an opportunity to rise to their own standards
for themselves. Kyle Reesman ’14 recalls the attitude toward service
that many high-school students take – they serve to be able to note it
on a college or job application. Character Counts has offered him an
opportunity for sincere service.
“In high school, I was very cynical,” said Reesman, who is in his
second semester with the program. VMI has shown him a different
perspective on quality of character and service, a perspective he hopes
to communicate to the students.
At VMI, “you have to be yourself because there’s always someone else
looking at you,” he said. “Now I’m doing the right thing to help other
people know that they can do the right thing.”
Indeed, Perry notes with a smile that the middle school students help
keep cadets and faculty and staff participants “accountable”: “If they
know they have these kids looking up to them, it holds them to a higher
standard as well.”
Everyday at VMI, cadets are investing in their own futures. Character
Counts has offered them an opportunity to invest more broadly.
“I believe that children are the future,” said Hosler. “I also believe
that they are very impressionable and that their early interactions will
affect them in the long run. That’s why I believe if we start early and teach
valuable lessons to children then hopefully it would make a difference
in their lives and how they treat others.
“If we reach out and touch the heart and mind of one child out of an
entire class, then we’ve done our duty and we’ve made a difference.”
Cadets (from left) Micah
Hosler, Kyle Reesman, and
Mike Shannon and Maj.
Chris Perry lead a discussion
Photo by John Robertson IV.