Building a Community with Character
Community with Character Livonia Public Schools recently introduced an important character education initiative/movement in all K-12 classrooms. This planned and strategic effort focuses on the eight universal character traits described below and is being woven into both the elementary and secondary curriculum. Our ultimate goal is to infuse these timeless values and universal principles into the culture of our schools so that our students will develop the life skills and habits of mind they need to thrive academically, socially, and personally, both now and in the future. RESPECT RESPONSIBILITY EMPATHY INTEGRITY GRIT CONFIDENCE MINDFULNESS REFLECTIVE Check out our Community with Character Blog!

Schools, businesses weigh in on ‘soft skills’ for success

Grit. Empathy. Respect. Confidence.

These are just some of the “soft skills” employers are seeking in job applicants these days. And, they are character traits that are being taught, practiced and modeled in Livonia Public Schools, in a special initiative called Community with Character.

This school culture and climate work was initiated by the LPS District School Improvement Team and is currently in its second year. The effort entails surveying staff and students; professional development sessions for staff; student focus groups; interactive online resources; classroom posters; a blog; a website and a wide array of school-based activities based on the character traits.

“Every year, we evaluate where we are and we redefine the work that needs to be done the following year,” said facilitator Donna McDowell. “Every action is deliberate, both collectively and individually.”

The initiative is being carried out at each school in the district, in a variety of ways, but the focus is consistent:

  • Respect
  • Mindfulness
  • Grit
  • Responsibility
  • Empathy
  • Integrity
  • Reflection
  • Confidence.

The initiative also emphasizes that all interactions, whether they are student-to-student; student-to-staff or staff-to-staff, should center around respect and should be: Positive, Genuine, Supportive, Professional, Thoughtful, Empathetic, Reflective and Kind.

DSIT member Chuck Dardas, President and Chief Operating Officer at the Livonia-based auto supplier Alpha USA, said he is glad LPS is teaching and practicing these character traits.

“I’m really impressed by what you are doing,” said Dardas, noting that in a relatively small company like Alpha, these character traits are very important. “I know at our level, they are vital. It’s so important to us, that you are informing students of this… letting them know about having grit and having confidence.”


At larger companies, these “soft skills” are also important, said Marshall Kleven, Relationship Manager at Fifth Third Bank, because larger companies are becoming more “flat,” and employees are now expected to be leaders and influence and support one another. In order to do that, he said, employees must possess confidence and integrity in order to gain the “buy-in” and cooperation from one’s peers.

 “Having those soft skills shows that you can persevere through a variety of issues,” he said.

When asked which character traits are the most important, Dardas said he would say respect and empathy are key traits he seeks in his employees.

“You have to understand where people are coming from and you have to respect everyone’s opinion,” he said. “Empathy is also very important to us. Even though we are 170 people, we know everyone out there. We understand the things that are driving them and we have that respect.”

Kleven said responsibility is “huge,” and integrity is paramount.

Both said teaching, practicing and repeating the character traits will be key to creating the desired culture in our schools.

“You have to have a consistent message and it’s about sticking to that message,” said Dardas.

He also noted that the Community with Character program reaches all grade levels.

“They’re not hearing this as seniors. They’re hearing it as kindergartners…. Look where they’re going to be, by the time they’re seniors,” he said.

John Carney, Vice President of Information Technology at Roush, said the soft skills are often what can “make or break” a hire in a competitive situation.

“These behaviors may not get you the job, but if you don’t have them, you won’t get the job,” he said. “That little ‘extra’ will define you and give you that edge. It will define you as a leader.”

Churchill High School senior Natalie Cadotte said she’s glad there is a focus on the character traits in Livonia schools.

“In a traditional school setting, it’s usually the ‘hard skills’ such as academics, that we focus on,” she said. “But, it’s the ‘soft skills’ that will really make the difference and it’s important to take the active time to talk about that.”