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Left to Right: Ana Lizcano 11th, Vivianne Coronado 11th, Faith Rhodes 12th, Serena Garcia 12th, Jazmin Lopez 11th, Jacqueline Medina 12th, Audrey Morales 11th, Veronica Hunt Student Council Advisor

A new initiative aims to nurture a culture of character at Harlingen High School.

“It’s about making kindness normal. It’s about creating a better school environment for all students,” says Serena Garcia, a senior.

Character Strong teaches students how to become more successful in relationships by building influence through servant-leadership.

Every Thursday, the bell schedule is adjusted by about ten minutes to accommodate group activities during students’ third-period classes. Students take part in character building activities during this time and get to know one another better.

“There are people who I’ve come to school with my entire life, and I’m just now getting to know them because of this program. It’s pretty cool,” says senior Faith Rhodes. “The one [activity] that really got me was the one in which we learned that children smile so many times a day whereas adults smile at the most 25 times a day. Now I make it a point to smile and greet a teacher when I see them in the hallway.”

The entire school body is also encouraged to take part in a weekly “dare” that is prominently displayed on a large banner in the main hallway of the school. This gives students unique ways to engage in kindness, forgiveness, honesty, respect, and more.

This week the “dare” is – give genuine compliments to five people you notice throughout the day.

“Giving a compliment to a person may be a small gesture but can have a big impact on their day,” says Rhodes. “It makes a person feel good and perhaps give them that boost they need to feel more confident.”

Leading the Character Strong initiative at HHS is the Student Council. It was adopted after Student Council Advisor Veronica Hunt attended a workshop in May.

“When I heard about this program and heard from John Norlin and Houston Kraft, the founders, I knew it was something that we needed here at Harlingen High. They are passionate, and their lessons are purposeful in developing strong character traits in students,” she says. “Building relationships is key and not just for them as students but for us as teachers.”

Aside from transforming the culture and how HHS builds community, Character Strong is teaching students how to empathize and resolve differences at a time when division seems rampant.

“Because our country is so divided, people are mean to each other and don’t even know one another, I thought we really need this,” says Student Council Advisor Veronica Hunt. “Our kids need to know that we can love each other despite our differences and our beliefs, be that political or religious, we are all one. We are one nation. We need to learn to live together peacefully.”

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