Richard Lerner, Bergstrom Chair in Applied Developmental Science
Most educational programs focus separately on either character, moral, or civic education. The Williamson School (WS) is one prominent exception. The WS, a three-year junior college in Media, PA, fosters among deserving but socioeconomically disadvantaged young men the values of faith, integrity, diligence, excellence, and service, character attributes that correspond with many of those included by Sir John in the Foundation's charter (e.g., diligence, future mindedness, generosity, honesty). The model has the potential to have a positive enduring impact on socioeconomic sectors of our society often bereft of hope and positive purpose. We propose to conduct a cohort sequential longitudinal evaluation of the integrative WS model. Across three years, we will measure existing and entering class cohorts of WS students, and operationalize and evaluate the implementation and impact of the WS theory of change, thereby providing a sample that includes newly-enrolled students and follows current students post-graduation. Using a life narrative interview method, we will also assess (1) 50-60 alumni of the WS who have graduated between five and 50 years ago, (2) 50-60 current WS students; (3) 50-60 alumni of the comparison schools; and (4) 50-60 current students in these comparison schools. The quantitative data from the WS will be contrasted with data derived from matched groups of male students enrolled in other vocational education or junior college programs in the greater Philadelphia area. The results of this research will address two Big Questions (about the role of character development in academic and life achievement, and about how to enhance the educational achievements of American men), and potentially have enduring impacts on enhancing the education of young men, on promoting the role of character education in enhancing life success, and on formulating a potentially powerful means to break the cycle of social dependency among lower income American families.