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'Assisteens' of Greater San Diego teach importance of character to students

High school students refused to let pandemic shut down acts of good deeds.

SAN DIEGO — Although you're probably aware of community service provided by the Assistance League of Greater San Diego, you may not know about their incredible program called Assisteens. In this Zevely Zone, I learned how not even the pandemic could cancel the importance of character. Since September 2020, a committee of nine Assisteens have been working hard developing virtual lessons for the Chase Character Building Project. The character traits are Respect, Conscience, Empathy, Fairness, Kindness, Self-Control and Tolerance.

Credit: Assisteens of Greater San Diego

Using Bitmoji characters of themselves, the high school students spent hundreds of hours throughout the pandemic teaching a Character Education program to elementary school students. "Tolerance, self-control, kindness," said 17-year-old Tran Duong. She and three other Assisteens Carolyn Bayrum, Catalina Haas, and Alyssa Leander showed how the program works.  They volunteer for the Assistance League of Greater San Diego. "I can't tell you how proud I am of them," said Karen Degischer who is a retired educator. Karen runs the Assisteens program and throughout the quarantine even though these teens were stuck at home, she knew their acts of good deeds could be put to work virtually. "I did not want to lose them I wanted to make sure they knew the commitment to give back to the community in a time of need and they did that big time," said Karen.

Credit: Assisteens of Greater San Diego

Despite the COVID-19 restrictions, teenagers from five different high schools connected with younger students at Chase Avenue Elementary. "We just didn't know how this would come off during a pandemic," said Assistance League volunteer, Sue Geller. She used to be the principal at Chase Avenue Elementary before retirement. Sue knew Character Education would be a perfect fit for what the school calls the Chase Way. "When you walk through the school, you see everybody being respectful to each other, everybody showing tolerance, everybody showing fairness," said Sue.  

Credit: Assisteens of Greater San Diego

Using Google Slides, the Assisteens created lessons that include teens reading aloud quality books and hands on activities and videos that demonstrate the character trait of the month. The videos also include Assisteens sharing their own experiences with the character trait. The program is interactive. Students click on the characters and books they like which then come to life through video. "We were just hoping to make an impact on these students lives and just help them become their best selves," said Catalina Haas.

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Talk to some of the students like D.J. and he'll tell you, "Tolerance means that you should be nice," said D.J. It's clear that even during a pandemic, students learned that character counts. "Even if you look different, that doesn't mean that you are different," said a student named Samaya.

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“Being able to make a difference during the pandemic for educators and their students is a huge motivator and it is what makes this project unique. The pandemic has definitely caused much stress, and we are glad that we could help the teachers out!” said Catalina Haas.

Assisteens of Greater San Diego is an auxiliary of the Assistance League. The non-profit group welcomes teen volunteers, grades 7-12, from various schools throughout the San Diego area.  For more information click here or send an e-mail to assisteensgsd@gmail.com.