By By Janet Little Cooper
Friday was anything but typical for a group of more than 35 junior and senior high school home schooled students.
The group of teenagers, who are members of the home school support group, Home Schooled Kids &Company, gathered at the First Presbyterian Church for an EFECT (Emphasis Focused Experiential Character Training) rally presented by The Character Project out of Brewton.
"We had a gorgeous day for our rally," Home Schooled Kids &Co. president Joanne Moore said. "I think things went really well. We had many kids in the beginning who were standing off wishing they had stayed at home, I'm sure. Several moms told me while we were waiting that their child had expressed displeasure when they were told that they had to go to this event. That was before it started. By the end of the project, I think they all had a great time."
The Character Project began in 2000 when Bob McMillan of Brewton saw the need for parents to have some help in teaching the kids good character because of the challenges presented by today's society and environment. McMillan wanted to start an organization geared toward that so he turned to the Character First (CF) program based in Oklahoma City.
Phil Johnson of Atmore, who is a CF instructor, is also a facilitator and employee with McMillan's Character Project.
"We worked the CF program for the first four years and still offer that program today, but it is no longer our emphasis at this point," Johnson said. "CF is an all-academic approach to character training. It is wonderful material, but we have found that children especially, tend to learn and obtain information by hands-on experience better. I am also a Project Adventure facilitator, which is an organization that provides leadership training through activities similar to rope courses found at Camp Beckwith. So almost two years ago, we took the two and combined the basic principles of each and came out with the EFECT challenge."
The purpose of EFECT is to create a unique event to teach a specific character trait to participating individuals. According to Johnson there are 49 character traits that they base their workshops on.
As evidenced in Friday's rally in Atmore, the character traits are divided into a four-part workshop called the Four Columns of Success. Participants are given the analogy of a long-distance runner and the pace that he or she must keep in a race.
The four letters of the word Pace are broken down into the four columns of success:
P: participation A: attitude C: cooperation E: encouragement. Under each heading is a specific character trait such as responsibility, attentiveness, humility, joyfulness, initiative, obedience, gratitude, and other things that help people relate to one another.
"The goal of EFECT is to create an experience where the participants will remember the benefit of positive character," Johnson said. "In every event the student's success is not based on their physical ability but by the success of their individual character traits."
From being part of a human golf course, using a catapult in a medieval party raid, challenging each other in a round of mind games, building a tent without communicating with each other on how to do it, taking a walk through a mine field blind folded to crossing a river of hot chocolate, Home Schooled Kids &Co. students worked together to achieve knowledge geared to help them succeed in Friday's rally.
Twelve different character qualities were taught and demonstrated in Friday's rally to the group of teenagers. This was one of the two reasons why Home Schooled Kids &Co. wanted to take the EFECT challenge.
"Home Schooled Kids &Co.'s reason for having the EFECT challenge is two fold," Moore said. "One is that the project will help demonstrate and teach 12 different character qualities that one needs to know to be successful. The second purpose is to help our junior and senior high get to know one another. Every year we have new kids that come into the group who don't know anyone."
According to Moore the support group looks for something at the very beginning of each school year that will make the students interact with one another. For Moore, the EFECT challenge seemed like the perfect solution.
"Since our kids are not together on a daily basis, it's important for them to have opportunities to work together and to get to know one another." Moore said. "This will give the students self confidence and the ability to work as a team and for the parents, it works as a form of reinforcement. It always helps to have someone else telling your child what you have been trying to get across. Sometimes hearing it from someone else helps him or her to realize that it's not just mom and dad who think something is important. When you are your child's teacher year after year-this becomes really important."
One of Moore's daughters, Emily, has worked with Phil Johnson as a facilitator of The Character Project, but Friday she got to see things in an entirely different light.
"It was certainly very interesting yesterday, being on the other side of it," Emily Moore said. "I believe that actually participating helped the message of The Character Project to sink in a bit more. Friday, they introduced several new character traits that I had not seen before. It was interesting being able to see all the different activities at once. There were several that I had seen done, but did not actually know how they worked."
Moore's experience as a facilitator was a challenge in many ways for her but it also helped her become more confident in herself. Changing sides for her in last weeks rally also offered its share of challenges for the young facilitator turned participant, but she also walked away a bit more confident and knowledgeable from that experience as well.
" One of the traits that especially stuck with me was determination," Emily Moore said. "The main focus on that trait was that you could not accomplish something without the help of others. I, like a lot of people, like to think that I can do things by myself. It is good to remember that I am always going to need the help of others in some way or other. I also learned that the best way to approach anything is with a good attitude. If you do not have a good attitude, you are not going to have a good time or be successful."
The Character Project, funded by the McMillan and Neal Trusts, is presented in two basic formats. The workshop format where facilitators go into a school classroom and do a series of 50-minute blocks with different classes all day emphasizing two to three different character traits or The Rally format, similar to the one in Atmore Friday, where facilitators do a four-hour block dividing participants into teams to compete and make their way through at least 12 challenges.
"Our goal was to put a 1,000 people through the program when we revamped it two years ago, we have put 4,800 through since then," Johnson said. "We had hoped to hold one event a month and we averaged eight a month. From now to November we have 17 workshops on the calendar. Everybody we have gone to wants us back."
Facilitators with The Character Project have been working in schools, businesses and churches. More than 50 facilitators have been trained to volunteer with the program ranging in age from high school students to senior adults. Each event calls for one facilitator per 10 people.
"We have been very successful in the schools," Johnson said. "But now we would love for the business community to see the value and make use of the services. United Bank used us to train all 15 branches at one time."
According to Johnson, the program helps to reinforce positive character among businesses employees. He also stated that statistics show businesses would lose 20 to 30 percent of its profits due to character related problems.
"This program helps lower an employers cost in workers compensation, gives them a greater retention of personal and also provides a more pleasant working environment as well as allows the employer to see how an employee reacts in a stress situation and know what they can handle," Johnson said.
For more information about The Character Project contact Phil Johnson at 251-538-7978.
For more information about Home Schooled Kid's &Company contact Joanne Moore at 368-4353 or go to their website at www.homeschool-life.com.
Home Schooled Kids &Co. is a local support group for family's predominately from Escambia counties in Alabama and Florida. The group was formed in the 1990s when local Christian families, who were home schooling, decided to come together for support and fellowship.
In 2000, the group was officially named Home Schooled Kids &Co.
Home Schooled Kids &Co. currently has more than 58 families enrolled representing approximately 145 students in grades K-4 through 12th grades. Families pay a yearly membership fee of $30, which entitles their children to participate in Home Schooled Kids &Co. activities. These activities consist of moms' meetings, field trips, park days, extra-curricular group classes, and organized physical education classes, parties and service projects.