The city of Gaithersburg has been celebrating Character Counts! in October since 1996, but this year the program’s subcommittee has introduced a few changes in an effort to keep the community engaged and enthusiastic about the program.
“It has been 17 years, so everyone looks forward to a little change in everything,” said Shanthi Srinivasachar, Character Counts! staff liaison.
A national ethics program, the Character Counts! coalition has built its foundation upon the six pillars of character, which are: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.
While the program will be nationally recognized from Oct. 20-26, Gaithersburg will extend its celebration this year to stretch out over the entire month of October, Srinivasachar said. Thirteen Gaithersburg schools have already committed to participating.
Essay and photo contest deadlines were also moved to the beginning of January, a change from mid-September in previous years, giving students several months to complete their submissions, instead of only a few weeks. The annual awards reception will be held in February 2014 to accommodate the new deadlines.
“It’s always been a challenge for those schools to meet their deadlines right when they start school in September,” said Britta Monaco, a city staff member who presented the new information about the program to the City Council Sept. 16.
Christie Meuer, a counselor and leader of the Character Counts! program at Summit Hall Elementary School in Gaithersburg, said she supported contest deadline extensions.
“I think it’s definitely a good thing,” she said. “It gives us more time to get the information out to the students and them more time to submit their materials.”
This year’s celebration will also introduce a new photography contest for high school students in place of the former Foundations for Life essay competition, encouraging students to visually show how character matters.
Participants are required to electronically submit one photo with a brief caption and a 200-word description that outlines the act of character shown by Jan. 6, 2014. Five winners, to receive $100 in cash each, and five honorable mentions, to each win $25 in cash, will be announced Jan. 27, 2014.
“With all the technology, we thought it would be great to do something that would attract that interest,” Srinivasachar said.
Other past activities, like the poster and “adult hero” essay contests for elementary and middle school students, will run again this year with the same deadline as the photo competition. Last year, 1,025 students from ten area schools submitted poster and essay contest entries.
College scholarships will also be awarded to several high school seniors who embody the six pillars of character. Awards have previously ranged from $1,500 to $3,000. Sixteen scholarships were awarded last year.
Ultimately, Srinivasachar hopes the changes to the program will ensure its successful future in Gaithersburg.
“I want to see this growing. I want to see it sustain itself,” she said. “We want to keep this going in the city.”
For a full list of Character Counts! events in Gaithersburg, visit gaithersburgmd.gov/character.