Good citizenship and character development are alive and well in our neighborhood, as evidenced by awards recently given out by the Dallas Coalition on Character and Values. The coalition recognized two local groups for their community-support programs: the Lake Highlands High School received the Character Counts! School Award and the Lake Highlands Exchange Club received the Character Counts! Organization Award.

Both the high school and the Exchange Club work together to sponsor monthly Character Counts! awards for Lake Highlands students who exemplify good citizenship and community values.

The high school officially began its Character Counts! program in 2000. Various school-wide activities reward students and faculty for displaying the Six Pillars of Character traits: caring, citizenship, fairness, respect, responsibility and trustworthiness. In addition to the monthly awards, the school also conceived of Project Wisdom, a daily recognition over the public address system of students who display positive character traits and values.

After Sept. 11, LHHS also implemented religious tolerance activities including a question-and-answer panel with religious leaders and an educational “Eracism” T-shirt campaign. This year’s activities again focus on the Six Pillars, and a new program, titled Campaign of Respect, has begun. This program emphasizes five areas of respect: self-respect, respect of community, surroundings, others, and respect of one’s future.

“The program recognizes good, decent, hard-working students,” says Kathryn Laster, LHHS student council advisor. She believes Character Counts! also benefits teachers because “they are able to reward students for being good citizens instead of issuing demerits for misbehaviors.”

Since the program started, the Exchange Club has joined with LHHS in recognizing students who exhibit positive character traits at monthly recognition ceremonies and awarding those chosen with a plaque and NorthPark Shopping Center Gold. Lake Highlands seniors also benefit from the club’s annual scholarships, totaling up to $50,000.

Organized in 1961, the club boasts the largest membership in Texas with 150 members. Additional activities include funding a Child Abuse Prevention Center and assisting with community members’ emergency needs. The group also doles out community recognition awards to teachers, police and fire department members and unsung heroes.