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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / The Charles H. Coolidge National of Medal of Honor Heritage Center was dedicated during a ceremony at the center on Saturday, February 22, 2020.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that passing a civics test is not a requirement for graduation in Tennessee. The 2019-20 school year is the first year that students are required to pass the state's civics test with a score of 70 or above.

Patriotism, citizenship, courage, integrity, sacrifice, commitment.

These are some of the characteristics that civic-minded citizens often exemplify or value.

But how do you instill these values in school children? How do you teach character?

At Hillcrest Elementary School, librarian Robin Hutchinson does this by reading books such as "We the People" about the preamble of the Constitution or books that define citizenship.

Recently, with the help of the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center's Director of Education Hannah Sher, Hillcrest fourth graders had the opportunity to learn about people who have received the Medal of Honor, and they created their own medals for deserving people in their lives.

Educating the next generation and teaching civics and character is part of the mission of the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, which opened in Chattanooga Saturday. Partnerships with local school districts and and educators across the state of Tennessee, such as Hutchinson, is how museum staff hope to accomplish that mission, Sher said. This week, Hillcrest students will be among some of the first students to take a field trip to the museum, but field trips aren't the only way students will be impacted by the museum's education programming, she said.

"The main thing we want to highlight is we have so many different ideas," Sher said. "This [museum] is going to be a canvas that teachers can really use to make their own."

(Read more: United in heroism, honored for all time. Read stories of local Medal of Honor recipients)

Photo Gallery

Medal of Honor Center opens

The core part of the museum's education outreach is its Character Education Program, based on the six character traits exemplified by Medal of Honor recipients over the years.

Sher and her staff have developed lessons and activities for students across grade levels based on the traits.

"Our ideal program is a six-week program in schools that teaches some of every character value each week," she said. Visits to the museum are more appropriate for students in fourth or fifth grade and older, because they are starting to learn about war and what war is, Sher said.

"We have a character club program that is designed for K-3rd grade. That program is more about the stories of the Medal of Honor recipients [and] it ties in more civilian examples, like a lesson about civil rights activist Rosa Parks or lessons about nurses and firefighters," she said.

Teaching students civics and character is something you often hear people claim is lacking in schools or something that community members say they would like to see more often, especially since this is the first year students are required to pass the state's civics test to graduate in Tennessee. Gov. Bill Lee has put an emphasis on civics education since he took office and then announced the launch of the "Governor's Civics Seal" during his State of the State address in March 2019.

The seal will recognize Tennessee schools and districts that prioritize teaching our nation's history and civic values, according to the Tennessee Department of Education, and the state made $500,000 in grants available to districts to enhance such programming.

CHARACTER VALUES

The Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center hopes to teach students the six character traits embodied by the Medal of Honor and its recipients:

— Patriotism: Devoting our loyalty and love to our country, including working to make it better

— Citizenship: Actively participating in our democracy and in our community

— Courage: Persevering in worthy endeavors despite fear

— Integrity: Being honest, keeping our word, and doing what is right, even when no one is watching

— Sacrifice: Giving of ourselves in the service of others

— Commitment: Devoting time, energy or resources to causes in which we believe

Source: Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center

Rachel Turner, social studies secondary content lead for Hamilton County Schools, said teaching civics isn't just teaching the legislative process in a government class or American history in a social studies class.

"A mistake that a lot of people make is that civics education only applies to social studies. I'm trying to help people understand this is an effort for all subject areas. Civics applies to math, it applies to science, it applies to art," Turner said. "Civics encompasses a lot of things — it's not just teaching them about the legislative process, but it's also teaching them the process of how to take their knowledge and their skills and apply it and make a difference in their life and their community."

The district's partnership with the Medal of Honor museum will not only allow students to visit and learn from the museum, but will help connect teachers from across the state and give them resources to embed civics education in their own lessons, officials say.

This summer, Hamilton County Schools will host a three-day Civics Institute at the museum that will bring together teachers and feature appearances by local elected officials, Superintendent Bryan Johnson and seminars on how local government works, how to incorporate character education into the classroom and a visit to U.S. District Court in Chattanooga.

Even just visiting the museum, Turner said, is beneficial for students and teachers alike.

"When teaching history there can definitely be a disconnect for students, because it seems so far gone, and oftentimes there's a lack of connections between [the past] and the students' lives," Turner said. "Anytime we can bring in artifacts and take students where they can learn more about something it makes it more real for them."

At Hillcrest, Hutchinson and her colleagues start each day reminding students to be respectful and responsible.

Through the partnership with the museum's character education program, she and the school's guidance counselor and music teacher were able to tie those traits to the museum's six core values.

"We are able to teach students and provide activities focused around being good citizens and what that means at home, at school, and in the community," Hutchinson said. "We ask them, 'How can we show respect for the community?' or 'What does it mean to show good character?'"

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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