Vista High School Character Leaders Program, Part 2

A couple days ago, we started telling you about Vista High School’s Character Leaders Program – what it does and what its outcomes seem to be on the students who are participating. There are specific things that seemed to aid the program’s success at the school. Here’s the breakdown:

Factors for Success

This program was originally implemented at two high schools, but only survives— and thrives—at one, even though both high schools began with the same resources and opportunities. What made the difference?

Four major factors emerge:

  • A Passionate Faculty Leader. David Hanlon, the teacher and “Character Leaders Facilitator” for the original grant, is the heart of the program. Not only does he lead and inspire his students, he actively reaches out to the rest of the school’s faculty and staff on campus to engage, include, and empower them to incorporate Character Ed into their instruction as well as participate in schoowide activities. Hanlon is a true “Idea Champion” on his campus.

Vista High Character Leaders at Brengle Terrace Park for a community clean-up event.

  • Supportive Administration. Administration staff at Vista High were impressed by and supportive of Hanlon and his work—so much so that after the grant ended, administration decided to use discretionary funds to fund at least one period of Hanlon’s instructional time so that he could continue to offer the CL course to students.

    In addition, one of the school’s Assistant Principals, Eric Chagala, actively partners with Hanlon to seek out and apply for small education grants to cover the cost of extra programmatic components such as Breaking Down the Walls, Safe School Ambassadors, and supplies and books.
  • Flexibility. One of the major obstacles to student enrollment in the CL course emerged early in the life of the program, and that was the scheduling conflicts with other courses. The answer was to allow an independent study version of the class, though this option was contingent on two things— the willingness of the teacher to take on the extra work that can come with independent study situations as well as an opportunity to meet regularly with independent study students. Which leads us to the final factor:
  • A Bell Schedule with an Advisory Period. Not only was Hanlon a teacher who was determined to make the CL course work, he had the advantage of an advisory period in the school’s bell schedule. Twice a week, for 30 minutes at a time, the school’s bell schedule includes an “Extended Learning Period (ELP),” which allows students to receive extra instructional support from teachers, attend club meetings, or in the case of the Character Leaders course, participate in the independent study version of the class.

    Approximately 80% of enrolled students participate via the independent study option, and are required to meet with Hanlon for 30 minutes twice a week during both ELPs to earn course credit.

For more information on this program, contact David Hanlon at You can also see the types of activities students participate in on the program’s Facebook page and check out Hanlon’s class webpage where he stores class documents and makes announcements to students.



  1. […] opportunities. What made the difference? We’ll tell you in tomorrow’s blog post! (Read Part 2 here.) Filed Under: […]

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