The 17th Annual Core Knowledge Conference

From Harlem to Orient: HEROES Converge and Emerge

From Harlem to Orient (Washington, that is), The Raoul Wallenberg Committee of The United States and its HEROES program were well represented at The Core Knowledge Conference. Diane Blake (RWC Director of Research and former Vice-Chairman of the RWC Board) and Dr. Kathleen Dunlevy Morin (RWC Director of Education and co-developer of HEROES) flew to Anaheim directly from New York City. Soon thereafter, Patrice Ricciotti Morgan (Principal of The Harlem Day Charter School) arrived ready to share how HEROES has been used for years at her school. Out of the Great Lakes region, Dr. Robyn Fischer Lovinger (RWC’s Director of Operations) winged her way westward from Cleveland. Emerging from the dramatic and beautiful remote, rural recesses of Washington State, Tara Holmes (Principal, The Orient School District) and Heather Alexander (Teacher, The Orient School) came armed with superb and creative samples of their students’ HEROES work. Unfortunately, this year, a key team member and co-developer of HEROES, Rachel Oestreicher Bernheim (RWC Chairman) remained, by necessity, in North Carolina.

Toasting Rachel Oestreicher Bernheim are (from left to right)
Diane Blake, Kathy Morin, Patrice Ricciotti Morgan,
Heather Alexander, and Tara Holmes at the Speakers Dinner.
Photographer: Robyn Fischer Lovinger

Enticing Exhibits; Gala Gatherings; and Scholarly Sessions

Thursday, November 20th
Before leaving their Core Knowledge Foundation offices in Charlottesville, Virginia, Karen Baggiano, Conference Director, and JoAnne Spitale, Conference and Exhibits Coordinator, had nailed down every detail required for a smooth running conference. They were on hand to extend a very warm welcome to each and every participant.

Enticing Exhibits

The HEROES quilt made by students at PS 145 in Manhattan,
one of the HEROES pilot schools

Diane Blake, Kathy Morin, and Patrice Riciotti Morgan
display students' work. Photographer: Tara Holmes

Gala Gatherings

Following a festive Conference Reception at The Marriott in the evening, the HEROES team joined other invitees on a short ride to The Lincoln Theater at Disneyland for a gala Speakers Dinner. Annually, the Speakers Dinner is a Conference highlight. Renowned for its delicious food and remarkable venues year after year, the Speakers Dinner has afforded opportunities to renew a special sense of community among all Conference speakers and the Core Knowledge officers and staff.

Speakers at the dinner included Dr. E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Founder of The Core Knowledge Foundation and current Chairman of its Board of Trustees; Ted Hirsch, Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Core Knowledge Foundation; and Linda Bevilacqua, President of the Core Knowledge Foundation. What a great start to the Conference!

At the Speakers Dinner, (l to r, seated) Patrice Ricciotti Morgan,
Heather Alexander, Tara Holmes; (standing) Robyn Fischer Lovinger, Kathy Morin,
and friend Sheila Gersh, Professor at City College of the City University of New York.
Photographer: Diane Blake

Scholarly Sessions

Friday, November 21st

Friday morning came early, and from dawn to dusk, the HEROES team was in perpetual motion. To a standing-room audience, Kathy, Diane, Patrice, and Robyn presented a session entitled “HEROES to the Core: Building Character, Caring, Civility and More through Curriculum Content.” Emphasis was on how the easy-to-use 1800+ page instructional resource, A STUDY OF HEROES, can easily be adapted to meet the standards and instructional needs of virtually any educational setting. HEROES builds academic skills while developing character in students of all ages (K-12, Adult). The youngest students using HEROES are a class of three-year-olds at The Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Pittsburgh. The oldest student is a 91 year-old “lifer” in a maximum security prison in New Jersey. (HEROES is used in all adult prisons under the aegis of the New Jersey Department of Corrections for both GED preparation and character education.)

Attendees at the session were treated to: the Wallenberg story told by Diane; a ‘whirlwind tour’ of HEROES instructional strategies by Kathy; concrete, and often touching, examples of Harlem Day Charter School students’ HEROES activities by Patrice; and the HEROES tee-shirt modeled by Robyn Fischer Lovinger!

Summing up such Conference experiences, Patrice Ricciotti Morgan observed:

“Being part of the team that presented HEROES to Core was an absolute privilege. When I think about the importance of having young minds develop into critical thinkers I am reminded of the importance of sharing knowledge. HEROES encourages just this -- the materials needed to provide learners of all ages with the information that they need to develop and the resources with how to share the information. Being at Core and sharing this resource is so invigorating.”

Patrice Ricciotti Morgan at a recent
Core Knowledge Conference.
Photographer: Kathy Morin

In the afternoon, a Roundtable Discussion Group focused on the natural interface between HEROES and Character Education. This session was led by Kathy with invaluable input from Diane and Patrice. Coming from a diversity of school settings, participants spoke openly and passionately about the successes of, and problems with, character education in their own school settings. All were touched by issues raised and the depth of concern and commitment shown by the teachers who attended this session. In part, it was the power of this session, which led Diane later to reflect that:

“Having just returned from the Core Knowledge Conference, I still feel the afterglow. Never have I come across such caring and gifted people. As a parent, I couldn't stop thinking how lucky these children are to have teachers like these. For the first time in my life, I wished I was a teacher too. Bravo to all the wonderful people at Core Knowledge.”

Saturday, November 22, 2008

As the Conference came to its conclusion, the full HEROES team assembled one more time to participate in “Understanding Heroism One Student and One Day at a Time: A Panel Discussion” moderated by Karen Baggiano, Conference Director. Diane again shared the story of Raoul Wallenberg. Kathy and Patrice, with the assistance of Robyn, presented highlights from HEROES. Tara Holmes and Heather Alexander discussed how The Orient School in Washington State has creatively adopted HEROES and displayed content-rich students’ projects and reports. The contrasts between the HEROES implementation in Patrice’s inner-city school and in Tara and Heather’s small, rural school gave testament to HEROES ease-of-use in diverse settings. Perhaps most significantly, this session demonstrated how, through A STUDY OF HEROES, students not only recognize the difference between the concepts of “hero” and “celebrity,” but also identify and appreciate the real heroes in their own families, schools, and communities as well as discover “the hero within themselves.”

Fond Farewells; Positive Post-Mortems; & Planning for 2009

For the remainder of the weekend, it was a time for farewells, reflection, and anticipation for next year’s Core Knowledge Conference!

As Conference participants and organizers headed home, many had the opportunity to reflect while gazing down from airplane windows upon: the twinkling holiday lights festooning swaying palm trees; the relentless surf pounding Pacific coastline; the majesty of lofty California hills; and the dazzle of Disneyland.

Perhaps Karen Baggiano, Conference Director, best summed up the emotions felt by all:

“I look forward to attending the conference next year and hope that Core Knowledge becomes a curriculum that is used in more and more schools and districts nationwide. All of the workshops I attended were “right-on.” The experience was awesome. This was a very special and unique experience to be among so many educators who understand the art of teaching and enjoy the process and the interaction with young learners …. I loved everything I did there …. (The Conference) was both extremely informative and inspiring.”

Karen Baggiano, Director, The Core Knowledge Conference & Dr. Dennis Denenberg, "Hooray For Heroes" Speaker and Author.Photographer: Kathy Morin


** What is Core Knowledge? According to its own web site ( ) it is an ‘educational reform movement’ premised on the conviction that ‘a grade-by-grade core of common learning is necessary to ensure a sound and fair elementary education’. Developing a culturally literate society is evidently at the ‘core’ of it all. The Father of the Core Knowledge Movement, which was founded in 1986, is Professor E.D. Hirsch, Jr.

Since 1999, A STUDY OF HEROES , has been featured annually in both workshops and exhibits at Core Knowledge National Conferences. As a result, Core Knowledge Schools across the nation have joined the ranks of the many diverse educational programs and organizations currently using and enjoying HEROES.

On Thursday afternoon, the Exhibit Hall had its Grand Opening. The HEROES “booth” was, as always, a real ‘eye-catcher! Its colorful, upbeat, content-rich displays not only reflected the heart and soul of the STUDY OF HEROES program but also lured Exhibit Hall visitors to ‘come on in and stay awhile’. Bedecked with colorful samples of students’ work, instructional materials, and our hallmark HEROES Quilt (made by one of our elementary level pilot schools), the booth provided a “busy” haven for participants. It was a great spot to share, promote and market HEROES. Diane, who is one of the world’s experts on Wallenberg, was available to tell the Wallenberg story explaining how HEROES serves as the RWC’s ‘living monument’ to Raoul Wallenberg, our nation’s Third Honorary Citizen. Kathy provided “mini-tours” of the abundant HEROES instructional resources. HEROES displays and the Wallenberg story combined to captivate one and all who stopped by the booth. As we have seen many times, the stories of real heroes are “gifts to be shared” and have the inherent power to change people’s lives. We hoped that those who visited the HEROES booth share the stories with their families and school communities back home.

In the April/May 2005 issue (vol. 17 #4) of Common Knowledge Core Knowledge’s newsletter, HEROES was introduced as a ‘marvelous product’ to add to Core’s resource list. The newsletter’s descriptive recommendation noted that HEROES is an ‘educational and inspirational endeavor, one that is very well aligned to the Core Knowledge curriculum and values. In a culture bombarded with celebrity worship, this program helps children to distinguish between being a celebrity and being a hero … All of the units feature excellent material to incorporate into character building programs, social studies and language arts.’

The Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States

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