Building character and intelligence

Seda Batmanian, a counselor at Chamlian Armenian School, knows her students, and her students know basketball. So when she started talking about Miami Heat forward LeBron James and his first game back in Cleveland, where he would face his former Cavalier teammates, their attention was piqued.

Cavalier fans donned T-shirts with angry messages printed on them and booed their former hero, Batmanian recalled. But one Cavalier player, Antawn Jamison, walked across the court and shook James' hand.

"I was so impressed by that," Batmanian said. "What the other adults were doing was not kind."

It was the type of anecdote that Batmanian loves to share with her students as part of Chamlian Armenian School's character class, a program designed to teach good citizenship and social responsibility. The character class was founded more than a decade ago but has taken on renewed significance in the wake of several serious school bullying incidents across the country, Batmanian said.

The counselor visits every classroom in the 500-student North Glendale school about twice a month, teaching lessons on patience and empathy. The lessons often include videos, books and games that help emphasize the message.

"We tried to teach the kids to be kind, to be helpful, to be respectful, and I think it really helps if she goes and reiterates that in the classroom," said Vice Principal Rita Kaprielian.

The school's Character Committee, which includes a dozen eighth-grade students, helps create posters with messages of kindness that are placed around campus.

"We have been trying to encourage the younger kids and junior-high kids to be kind," said Suzanna Hadjinian, 13, a committee member. "If we see any bullying going on, we stop them."

Digital media play a pervasive role in young people's lives, Batmanian said. Previously, bullying stopped with the last bell. But now, thanks to text messaging and social networks, such behavior can continue 24 hours a day, she said.

Young people also are bombarded with examples of poor behavior from prominent pop-culture fingers.

"I tell the kids it's hard to grow up here," Batmanian said. "They have everything at their fingertips."

Batmanian uses various analogies and demonstrations to communicate with Chamlian students. One day, she brought a tube of toothpaste into a classroom and asked them to give examples of rude words or phrases. With each one, she squeezed out a bit of toothpaste. It is impossible to get the toothpaste back into the tube once it is out, just as it is impossible to take back rude comments once they have been spoken, she said.

"[We are trying] to raise good human beings," Batmanian said. "We teach them empathy, being a good humanitarian, showing compassion, being trustworthy. Everything we do is all choices. We are going to make mistakes, and we should; but we should learn from that."

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