Lawrence school district employees undergo ‘CharacterStrong’ training in relationship-building, wellness

photo by: Matt Resnick/Journal-World

Lawrence school district employees take part in an activity during a curriculum-related training seminar on Monday, July 17, 2023.

As part of the rollout for a new curriculum themed around social-emotional well-being, more than 60 Lawrence school district employees — three from each school — underwent a two-day training seminar at Lawrence High School this week.

Dubbed “CharacterStrong,” the PreK-12 curriculum emphasizes the need for community-building within the classroom environment, predominantly through the nurturing of positive relationships and management of emotions. Cynthia Johnson, the district’s executive director of inclusion, engagement and belonging, described the curriculum as “new and fresh.”

“It’s meeting students exactly where they are at this time in their lives and elevating them to the next level,” she told the Journal-World Tuesday.

Johnson explained that the curriculum is designed to foster kindness, wellness and inclusion while offering social and emotional support to both students and staff, and that the overarching goal is for “everyone to be well.”

Teachers and administrators taking part in the orientation were guided through numerous group activities by CharacterStrong trainers Kemy Joseph and Lindy Kaemming. Joseph told attendees that empathy, authenticity and consistency were pillars of the “triangle of trust” dynamic between teachers and students.

photo by: Matt Resnick | Journal World

Kemy Joseph leads a training seminar aimed to familiarize Lawrence Public Schools staff with a new curriculum that’s being rolled out for the 2023-24 school year.

“Everything we do builds or breaks trust,” said Joseph, who garnered national attention in 2012 after embarking on a self-described “national kindness” tour.

During a panel discussion Tuesday morning, Joseph emphasized that buy-in from staff and students was necessary for the curriculum to work as it’s meant to.

One of the seminar’s keynote speakers, Southwest Middle School Principal Carissa Miles, told the Journal-World that she believed the new curriculum would fundamentally change the way in which teachers and students interact.

“It will change how we build relationships and build a school community,” she said. “It’s pretty comprehensive.”

While the curriculum is set for a districtwide rollout for the upcoming school year, it was used on a pilot basis for the 2022-23 school year, involving 150 teachers and 1,500 students. Included among that group was recently closed Broken Arrow Elementary School. The school’s former principal, Amanda Green, also delivered a keynote presentation.

“I was really focused on the experiences last year at Broken Arrow Elementary, and the learning opportunities that our students took away from doing a buildingwide implementation of CharacterStrong,” said Green, who now serves as principal at Sunflower Elementary School. “The (former) staff from Broken Arrow will be able to take and share that knowledge with the students they are going to be serving at their new buildings.”

Joseph has participated in many CharacterStrong training seminars across the nation, but said that what he observed at LHS this week was of a different caliber.

“There is an intentional highlighting and building out (of the curriculum) over the summer, to ensure that folks in the building can receive it in waves,” he said. “This (group) is the gold star for how to implement it.”

Following the pilot program and a curriculum review process, the Lawrence school board approved the purchase of the CharacterStrong program in late April. The five-year cost for the program was approximately $267,000, with around $207,000 coming from federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding. The remainder will come from the district’s instructional resource funds.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.