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Students Learn Ethics in Hands-On Workshop

Honesty, integrity, courage, responsibility — all admirable traits. And more than 800 students — 750 sophomores from Westfield High and 70 government and psychology students from Mountain View School — learned last week how these and other good, moral values can help them make ethical decisions throughout their lives.

They participated last Monday, Nov. 22, in the annual Ethics Day held at the Westfields Marriott and organized by the education committee of the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce. Also taking part in the day-long event were nearly 200 adults recruited from the business and legal communities, PTA, teachers and residents.

"I think it's a great idea," said Westfield sophomore Drew Garcia. "It helps us build character and gives us insight about the decisions we'll make later in life."

High-school seniors acted out various scenarios, and then they and the adults led table discussions helping the younger students discover the potential impacts of lying, cheating and treating people unfairly. The workshops dealt with personal, business and legal ethics.

The personal-ethics workshop focused on character integrity, and character traits discussed included trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, justice, caring, citizenship, diligence and integrity.

CHAMBER OF Commerce members and Chantilly Chick-Fil-A owner Richard Jarrell led the business-ethics workshop. Westfield theater students acted out several situations involving ethical decision making in the workplace, and the other students had to determine the best response to each dilemma.

In the legal arena, seniors acted out an actual, past courtroom case involving "Alice," 15, an inexperienced driver who'd been at a party, drinking, and tried to drive her drunk friend home, but ended up killing her in a car crash. After the students heard the evidence and listened to the testimony, they had to decide whether the high-school girl "on trial" was guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge Gayl Carr presided over the case and then questioned the students about elements leading up to the tragedy that involved judgment and ethics. Also participating in the courtroom scene were attorneys Uzair Siddiqui and Edward Duffy.

Garcia said it taught him what court proceedings are like and "what will happen to you if you commit crimes." He believed Alice was guilty because "you're at a greater risk if you don't know how to drive, and also if you drink. She should have called her parents to take her home."

Westfield sophomore Heidi Northam learned "how drinking affects people," and she, too, declared Alice guilty because "she made the decision to go behind the wheel drunk."

Classmate Stephanie Kennaugh learned to "be careful what you do, be aware of your surroundings and take care of your friends — and make sure they do the right thing." She also said the workshop was timely, "since a lot of the 10th-graders are starting to drive, this year," and the scenario taught her "how to be safe and not to drink or do drugs."

Mountain View senior Sean Marshall said the ethics workshop "really helps us think outside the box when it comes to different situations in life. I learned how the law affects everyday life and how our actions can be held against us."

He found it difficult decided about Alice. "The evidence said she only had one drink," he explained. "More importantly, she doesn't have a license and doesn't know how to drive or to use a manual transmission. I'd have to say 'guilty' because she not only put herself at risk, but all the other drivers on the road, too."

MOUNTAIN VIEW senior David Moon had never been to this event, before, and he called it an "honor and a pleasure" to work with the attorney at his table, Vincent Gambale. Said Moon: "It was interesting to share my opinion with him and to hear his professional opinion about this case."

"He convinced me that listening helps — and to change my own opinion about the verdict," said Moon. "I went from 'guilty' to 'not guilty'. I believed she was guilty due to negligence, but he told me that [her crime] must be so gross that it's a callous disregard for human life. He said the prosecutor failed to show evidence of that. [Alice] was trying to do a good deed and had an accident."

Gambale was one of 13 members of the U.S. Attorney's Office participating in Ethics Day. He called the event a wonderful idea and said how struck he was with the students' questions and enthusiasm.

"I was particularly impressed with the way they listened and were willing to change their opinions after discussing the evidence," he said. "They had open minds — and that's what good jurors should have. I think we have a good generation which will be able to handle their civic responsibilities when it comes time to do that."

One of the character-ethics scenarios showed a party in which one person was encouraging another person to drink; another scenario showed a boy pressuring a girl to have sex. Then the actors froze the scene and students had table discussions about how to handle these situations.

In a scenario about stereotyping and tolerance, a new girl in school was met by two other girls. They pointed out other students to her, but described them as either "geeks" or "jocks." Again, the scene was frozen, and the characters are then shown 30 years later at a reunion. One of the "jocks" now owned a daycare center, and a "geek" had turned into an Olympic athlete.

Northam said it taught her that "you should get along with many varieties of people and keep your mind open." Added Mountain View senior Marie Henderson: "You need to use your heart and your instincts when deciding what's right and what's wrong." Sharon Hoover, youth director at Centreville Presbyterian Church, was one of the table leaders. From that scenario, she said, "The students realized it's important to not jump to conclusions about people."

The business-ethics scenarios, said Garcia, taught students "how cheating, lying and stealing [as a teen] often lead, later in life, to lying to your boss and stealing money." And, said Kennaugh, "We learned about being loyal to your company, making the right decisions and knowing — if you did something wrong — what the consequences would be."

AT WORK, said Henderson, "You have to look at your priorities. Is stealing from work OK? Is it OK under certain circumstances? You have to realize what's right and what's wrong. If you're trying to do something manipulative or go behind someone's back, it's still not right — even if you're not caught."

Hoover said it's good for the students to be able to discuss these issues, and the scenarios compelled them to consider consequences. "That's what I think is unique about this [event]," she explained. "In schools, communities, churches and other places, kids talk about ethics, lying, cheating and stealing. But to consider what happens [as a result] really forces them to think about decisions they and their friends participate in. And the scenarios they developed were very realistic."

Some of the ideas the students kicked around included: If you don't have permission from your boss, is it right to do homework at your job? Are you stealing your time from your employer? Is it wrong to steal $100 from work? What about just $1, or a box of staples?

"There's a really big gray area out there," said Hoover. "Ethics Day forced the kids to talk about it."

Sponsoring the event were the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce, FGM Inc., Northrop Grumman/TASC, Connection Newspapers, Westfields Business Association and the Westfields Marriott Hotel and Conference Center.