Character Education Makes a Difference


Pictured Above: Daniel Moskowitz (left) and Amani Campbell hold up bagged lunches they prepared to be distributed to homeless people in New York City. The activity was part of a larger lesson on empathy at the Walden School in Yorktown.

It is one thing to read about fictional characters or even real people who have a made a difference in the world; it’s another to take action yourself. In Debra Haggerty’s class at the Walden School, students don’t just learn about character in theory, they put what they are learning into practice. Haggerty’s students have been learning about empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. The lesson has included reading the book, Bud, Not Buddy, which follows the exploits of a homeless child.

So, they made sandwiches for the homeless and gave them to two Walden staff members, Michelle Bergman and Debbie Vertucci, who brought the food to the Port Authority in Manhattan and distributed it to homeless people there.


“There are people out there who have no food or shelter,” said Evan Torres. “We made sandwiches and included a cookie and a note with each one to make them feel better.”

The notes said things like “Hope you enjoy this food,” and “Made with love.” Torres said making the sandwiches didn’t just benefit the recipients. “It made me feel good to do this because we have empathy for people,” Torres said.

Asked how he might show empathy at school, he gave an example of a student who misses a shot in basketball and is upset. “I would tell them good try, and don’t give up,” he said.

Amani Campbell, another class member, said “I feel glad that we did something to make homeless people happy. Everyone should look for ways to show empathy.”

Another student said “I was proud of my class because we all worked together.” Before studying empathy, the class worked on “perseverance and grit,” other positive character traits.That lesson was tied in to reading about Helen Keller.

“She was blind, deaf and mute,” said Evan. “But she went to college and wrote a book.”

In their own lives, the students each came up with statements about goals they would persevere to achieve. These included working on social skills, reading and attentiveness.