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Mary B. Neal Elementary School in Waldorf last week was named a 2013 National School of Character by the Character Education Partnership.

Neal is one of 18 public elementary schools nationwide selected for the award, and is the only Maryland school selected.

National Schools of Character demonstrate growth in academics, behavior and climate, according to a school system news release.

Neal Principal Carol Leveillee said character education at Neal is not just a program, but a way of life.

“Since the spring before Neal opened in 2008, character education has been the foundation of our building. Character education is not a program at Mary B. Neal; it’s a way of life. I can’t begin to tell you how very proud I am of the students, staff, parents and the community that supports us,” she said in the release.

Neal underwent a screening process as a finalist that included school visits and an analysis of the impact of the character education program on academics, behavior and school culture. Earlier this school year, Neal was chosen as a 2013 Maryland School of Character award recipient by the Maryland Center for Character Education at Stevenson University.

As a state award winner, Neal was eligible for consideration in the National Schools of Character program.

Schools are selected for the state award based on their demonstration of the Character Education Partnership’s 11 principles of effective character education, promotion of ethical values and a caring school community, fostering students’ self-motivation and engaging school staff to help with character-building efforts. Schools are required to apply for character education awards annually.

There are several character education initiatives in place at Neal.

The school fosters a partnership with Joint Base Andrews in which military members visit the school once a week to mentor students. The school coordinates community service projects, such as food drives and a 5K race to support the Southern Maryland Food Bank. The Maryland State Department of Education has recognized Neal for the past four years for its food drive efforts.

Additionally, Neal launched an initiative called “30 Rock” three years ago in which students in grades 2 through 5 can participate in clubs. The school has formed more than 30 clubs, and each Friday for 30 minutes, students can participate in the club of their choice. Clubs range from cheerleading, creative writing and art to drawing, world drumming and sign language.

Neal also was honored in 2010 as a Promising Practices in Character Education National award winner. As part of the National Schools of Character awards program, the Character Education Partnership gives Promising Practices awards to schools for implementing unique and specific strategies in character education.

Neal, along with other National Schools of Character, will be featured at the National Forum on Character Education in October in Washington, D.C.