From the Blog

The Lore School & The Y: Character Counts

How Outdoor Education at a YMCA Camp helps meet the goals of Character Education.


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“Throughout history, and in all cultures all over the world, education rightly conceived has had two great goals: to help students become smart and to help them become good.” 
– Thomas Lickona & Matthew Davidson, Smart & Good High Schools


Character education is the intentional effort to build up good moral fiber within students. It is not a new idea; since the inception of the public school system in the United States, good education has been synonymous with character education. In the past fifteen years however, there has been resurgence in the character education movement to re-examine it as a vital objective for all schools, whether public, private or charter. One school that has recognized the benefit of the YMCA’s core value focused programming to enhance their own commitment to character education is the Lore Elementary School of Ewing, NJ. The Lore School is a model of the values of character education, selected in 2010 as a National School of Character by the Character Education Partnership. 


The character or UNITY program at the Lore School is epitomized by twenty-six student selected core value words, including Respect, Cooperate, Give, Support, Think, Share, Celebrate, Accept and Be Kind. These UNITY words are more specific than the four Core Values of the YMCA (Caring, Honesty, Respect and Responsibility), but the overarching philosophies run parallel. Both the Y and the Lore School seek to have a permanent influence on individuals, shaping who they are & who they will become by teaching them to care deeply about what is right. “We believe as educators that we have a responsibility to create a caring and compassionate society for future generations, hence our commitment to character education,” states Patricia Womelsdorf, current Lore Elementary School Principal.


So why does a National School of Character like Lore Elementary choose to have a weekend retreat at a YMCA Outdoor Education Center? It gives them another opportunity to put their character education values into practice. The Lore School has been bringing their 5th graders on a spring weekend retreat to YMCA Camp Bernie in Port Murray, NJ every year since 1980. “When we bring the students to Camp Bernie, it is a culmination of our character program where they are learning how to live the core value words instilled in them,” says Ms. Womelsdorf, “They put into practice all the theory and concepts of cooperation, encouragement, trust, and acceptance that have been a part of their Lore School education up to that point in their lives.” 


There is an important process in getting the children ready for their Camp Bernie excursion every spring that starts long before winter is over. During the December holiday break, the principal divides the four 5th grade homerooms into six Camp Bernie activity groups. She purposefully ensures that each group is balanced by homeroom, gender and ethnicity.  Then beginning in January, the 5th grade classroom and physical education teachers begin to incorporate teambuilding activities into gym, beginning the process of teaching the children how to work together in their camp family group. “It is a healthy thing to divide the children into groups. It gets them to work with other people. Sometimes when they start the activities in gym, they might be wary of working with another student they don’t know, but soon the activities change their opinions and teach the children to work together as a team to get something done. Then through the course of the Camp Bernie weekend, these children are cheering for each other,” says Patricia. 


The Lore students’ participation in the YMCA Camp Bernie activities serves as a testament of their maturity and commitment to living the Lore UNITY words. Even the Y camp staff can feel that they are working with an extraordinary group of people. The cooperative spirit that the Lore character education program creates is exemplified when a student climbs to the top of the forty-foot rock wall, and instead of saluting it as an individual accomplishment, there is an entire community celebration. The 5th grade child shouts from the top of the tower “All for One” to which his/her classmates on the ground respond “and One for All”, the cheer continues with the climber saying “You for Me” with the response “And Me for You,” and ends with the ringing of the Lore School UNITY bell. “We should never lose sight of teaching children how to work together. Their Camp Bernie weekend also teaches them how to live together. It is a big, big experience for them and a giant step in their personal development,” says Ms. Womelsdorf.


Further evidence of the importance of the trip to YMCA Camp Bernie can be found in the files of former Lore principal, Jack Heater. He has received many letters from past students, now high school seniors or college graduates, “who always mention what an impact the program has upon their lives and that it is their favorite activity of all time.” He was kind enough to share one of these touching letters written by a 5th grade boy, who is now a senior in college. “Camp Bernie became the most important tradition for the UNITY program. It is the rite of passage that all students go through and is extremely important in their lives,” comments Jack. 


Dear Mr. Heater, June 2000


I just wanted to thank you for bringing us to Camp Bernie. I’ve learned many valuable lessons from this weekend. Friday I was a boy, Sunday afternoon I was a man. I learned how to work as a team member. I know you’ve been trying six years to teach me that. But, I found out I only needed one weekend to learn it.


I’ve been waiting for this weekend for years because of the fun there. But, now I know it’s not just fun. It’s learning lessons for the weekend and the rest of your life. I learned how to live with my friends but, most of all I learned love. So from now to middle school to high school to college to my wife to my career and into my grave, I’ll always have the light of you and Camp Bernie shining strongly in my heart. –MM


Patricia understands how crucial it is to carry on guiding the Lore School within the framework of the UNITY program, and will continue to bring her 5th grade class to Camp Bernie to compliment that program as long as funding exists. “Probably the most rewarding experience, when all is said & done, is to come into the building on Monday morning after the Camp Bernie weekend. The unity and bonding that the children feel for one another, it is a wonderful feeling. You can’t duplicate that, you just can’t.”


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