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United Way Blog

The lesson that lasts a lifetime

If, indeed, it takes a village to raise a child then we all share responsibility for making sure that we’re not only fostering their cognitive development, but also their social and emotional development. There’s growing evidence suggesting that mastering social-emotional competencies leads to greater well-being and better school performance. Failing to do so however, can lead to a variety of personal, social and academic difficulties.

That’s why United Way is teaming up with the National Football League to bring character education to schools across the country with Character PlaybookTM—a digital education program that trains students on how to cultivate and maintain healthy relationships during their critical middle school years. It focuses on middle school students because these transition years between early childhood and high school are a time of rapid brain development.  It is a period when skills learned and behaviors repeated are hardwired. Those who develop good communication skills and emotional intelligence can draw on them for a lifetime of interpersonal, academic and ultimately, professional success.

Since its launch, more than 47,500 students at 466 middle schools have completed 169,087 modules.

In Philadelphia, sixth graders at William Ziegler Elementary School are using Character Playbook to help manage behavior and resolve conflicts—in the classroom and at home.  At a recent Character Playbook event hosted by United Way of Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey and the Philadelphia Eagles, several students reported using counting and breathing exercises to manage their emotions and taking time to think before acting. According to teacher Adell Shaw, a lot of the “girl drama” in her classroom has been minimized considerably by Character Playbook, and she recognizes her students using the language of Character Playbook in their daily communications.

"At the beginning of the school year, I saw a lot of conflict among my students," said Shaw. "They didn’t really know how to navigate social situations or settle conflicts, and I was losing instruction time to hash out problems. Then we implemented Character Playbook… and the change has been amazing! They’ve learned about why character is important and tips to deal with conflict resolution, build healthy relationships and make good decisions. Now my days aren’t spent addressing as much bickering and drama, so I’m able to teach more and invest more positive energy in my students."

How does Character Playbook work? The curriculum uses an engaging digital platform and real world activities, rooted in evidence-based strategies, to teach middle school students how to build healthy relationships. The program is interactive, and covers the key elements of social emotional learning that are the basis of positive character development:

  • Analyzing Influences
  • Understanding and Managing Emotions
  • Communicating Effectively
  • Resolving Conflicts
  • Stepping In (when someone needs help)
  • Making Decisions

Students engage with true-to-life scenarios that include bystander intervention strategies and positive relationship examples. Throughout the course, reflection activities help them relate these scenarios to current real-life experiences. 

Character Playbook is not a silver bullet but it is giving schools a foundation and common language for this important conversation. Learn more about the work of the NFL and United Way Partnership at www.unitedway.org/nfl