By Brittany Carlson, Belvoir EagleDecember 19, 2013
Ask a room full of first-graders a question, and you're sure to get a variety of responses.
That was definitely the case for Staff Sgt. Kevin Lipinski, 212th Military Police Detachment, Headquarters Battalion, when he visited Jocelyn Thompson's first-grade class at Fort Belvoir Elementary School Dec. 12 to talk about respect as part of the Character Counts program.
"What's one way you guys can show respect to one another?" he asked the students.
Their answers included "Be nice" and "Listen to the teacher" along with "Never punch anyone in the eye" and "Don't say the A-word."
Whatever the answer, Lipinski and the 60 other servicemembers who visited the school Thursday accomplished the program's goal: help kids to develop good character at a young age.
"They taught me that you should respect everyone," said Leah Stevens, 7, after the morning lesson with Lipinski. "You should respect everyone as you would respect yourself."
This is the second year of the Character Counts program, provided through a partnership between FBES and Fort Belvoir's Headquarters Battalion. So far this year, the program has grown from 25 volunteer servicemembers in November to 60 on Dec. 12. Next month, the battalion hopes to put at least one servicemember in all 61 classrooms at FBES.
"We did it last year and it was really effective in bringing together the community as far as making students have that connection with servicemembers," Lipinski said. "It was a really good thing -- trying to teach them some values."
Bringing Soldiers into the classrooms really helps those values hit home with the children, said Jocelyn Thompson, FBES first grade teacher.
"They absolutely love seeing Soldiers come in, because they're all in military Families, so they just love boasting about all that," she said.
This was especially true for Clayton Lipinski, Kevin Lipinski's 6-year-old son, who was thrilled to see his father visit his class in uniform.
"I was surprised and happy," he said.
Character Counts is based on the Josephson Institute's Six Pillars of Character: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship. One day out of each month from November to April, servicemembers from all units and service branches on Fort Belvoir visit children in kindergarten through sixth grade to talk about the six pillars, or traits, on the school's morning news broadcast and in the classrooms.
It's a great way for servicemembers here to take an active role in shaping the community, said 1st Sgt. Landon Jackson, 55th Ordnance Company (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), first sergeant.
"I think it's always important for servicemembers to be involved in the local communities. It shows that we're here for more than just to do our job. Part of that job it to help support the community," he said.
Jackson visited a first-grade classroom Dec. 12.
"We discussed what we think respect is and what it means to us and we just kind of opened it up to the kids," he said. "We talked about different things that they could respect besides just respecting each other, respecting teachers. The kids brought up respecting things."
One of the great things about talking with students is the fact that they're always willing to share what they think, he added.
"You didn't really even have to ask a question," he said. "They just threw information out there and they just kept the conversation going."
Character Counts is the largest character education program in the nation. For more information, visit http://charactercounts.org.