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Schools make character count
Cowell, Lathrop campuses stress responsibility
This is the Peace Garden at Joshua Cowell School where the two Peace Poles are situated, along with the Six Pillars of Character. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Everybody at Lathrop Elementary School knows what Principal David Silveira did this past summer break. It’s right there on campus for everyone to see, its vivid colors making it impossible to ignore.

It’s called the Six Pillars of Character Counts, plus a Peace Pole. “My summer project at school this year,” Silveira said as he showed off the half-dozen columns that he planted in a grassy area next to a towering shade tree in the back of the school administration office.

Each pole is roughly 10 inches in diameter and rises approximately eight feet from the ground. Silveira anchored them two feet into the ground, stabilizing each one with cement. The Peace Pole is the only one that is not cylindrical in shape. It is four-sided, and easily stands out among the rest because it’s painted white.

The poles are actually utility pipes and were donated by the same company that is working on the underground infrastructure along Woodward Avenue. Silveira secured the donation by contacting the business in Sacramento, and they had the materials conveniently delivered to the school.

From pouring the cement to planting the poles and then painting them, the project took about three weeks’ worth of hours to complete while working on it off and on during the summer, Silveira explained.

He had some help from his vice principal, Karen Olsen, who spray-painted the coating for the poles. The school custodian also stepped in and moved the dirt around the poles. Silveira himself painted each pole with a different color.

Pillars intended to help students build character

The columns are not there for students to play “Ring a Ring o’ Roses” at recess time, or as a maypole for fun games. Nor are they merely landscaping accents to an area already dominated by a grouping of decorative boulders.

They are pillars of character strength. They are actually teaching, or learning, devices to help students develop character; hence, the project’s name – Character Counts. In fact, the project’s official name, The Six Pillars of Character, is registered by the Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics which developed it.

It’s not a district-wide requirement that all schools practice or institute the Character Counts program, Silveira explained.

In fact, the only other school in the district that already has it in place is Joshua Cowell Elementary on Pestana Avenue in Manteca.

“Bonnie’s very creative over there,” Silveira said, referring to Cowell School Principal Bonnie Bennett who has the Character Counts program already in place for some time on campus.

The idea behind the Six Pillars of Character is to instill in the students’ young minds the “six ethical values that everyone can agree on – values that are not political, religious, or culturally biased,” according to the Josephson Institute’s web site.

The six ethical values are Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship. The first letters of each one even forms an acronym TRRFCC to help the students remember that “people with good character are terrific.”

Painting each of the pillars with a different color is another device intended to drill in the lesson into the students’ minds. Blue is for the Trustworthiness pillar, yellow or gold for Respect, green for Responsibility, orange for Fairness, red for Caring, and purple for Citizenship. Each color also carries a significance that is unique to that pillar. The green in Responsibility, for example, is designed to make the student think of “being responsible for a garden or finances.”

The ground around the area where Silveira planted the columns is brown right now, with no lush grass to speak of. That’s the next step of the project, he explained. He said he and his staff will put Bermuda grass in this area. To complete the landscaping, they will have California poppies growing around the rock formation, he said.

Peace Pole aims to deliver message of unity

In the middle of the Six Pillars of Character is the lone four-sided white column called the Peace Pole. On each side is the message, “May Peace Prevail on Earth” written in four languages: English, Spanish, Tagalog and Punjabi. These are the languages that are most common to the Lathrop School Elementary community.

At Joshua Cowell School, there are two peace poles on which the peace message is written in the languages that is most common to the school community: English, Portuguese, Spanish, Cambodian, Tagalog, French, Yokuts (the language of the Native Americans who lived in the area), and Punjabi.

The Peace Pole project is part of an international project whose purpose is to promote peace. It is a project that started in Japan in 1955 in response to what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki where the atomic bomb were dropped during World War II. Today, approximately 200,000 Peace Poles are erected in 180 countries and on every continent around the world.