Learning some hard lessons firsthand, some 830 Westfield High sophomores and 50 seniors participated recently in the annual Ethics Day event at the Westfields Marriott.
The seniors acted out ethical dilemmas and also played jurors in a mock trial, and nearly 100 adult volunteers helped with presentations and moderated table discussions among the students.
The business-ethics scenario stressed the importance of honesty and integrity in the workplace, and the character-education portion focused on issues facing today's high-school students. The court case was a reenactment of a real case in which an unlicensed, inexperienced, teen-age driver tries to drive a drunk friend home, gets into an accident and causes her death.
"IT'S PART of character education," explained Westfield Assistant Principal Dave Jagels. "The scenarios dealt with lying, stealing, cheating and drunk driving. And we're really just hoping kids stop and think about their decisions — that's the ultimate goal."
After watching the scenarios, adults led students in various thought-provoking discussions about character. Some of the questions students were asked to answer involved values such as trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness/justice, caring, citizenship, courage, diligence and integrity.
For example: How do you know you can trust someone? How do you feel when someone judges you without knowing you or giving you a chance? What does being responsible have to do with the quality of your character? Is it possible to treat everyone fairly? What does it mean to be open-minded?
They also discussed: To what extent would you inconvenience yourself for another person? What is social responsibility? What is moral courage? What stops people from taking a stand against something they know is wrong? Does attitude have anything to do with success? What does "integrity" mean to you? What does "compromising your principles" mean? How do you want to be remembered after you die?
One scenario involved a party attended by three people named Brian. "One decided to drive drunk, one decided to party with the girls and one took the right path and decided not to drink," said sophomore Seher Hoda, 15. "We learned that the one who didn't drink ended up with a better life. The other Brians did things that they regretted."
She said lots of teen-agers are handling these kinds of issues at this point in their lives. "If their parents drink, they're influenced by it," she said. "So this teaches you to trust your instincts and the impacts of your decisions."
JUSTIN SHIN, 16, said the scenario also reflected "peer pressure and girl obsession." And, he added, "I learned that alcohol is bad. It showed how alcohol affects your vision, perception and your ability to choose right from wrong."
Fifteen-year-old Raymond Blubaugh said the whole event was "very productive because it gives you a better idea of what ethics is. I learned that every choice you make affects you later. It'll make me think a lot harder about my decisions before I take action."
As for Reetu Mukherji, 15, she said the session was valuable because it taught her "how to deal with things that'll come up in school, such as peer pressure, bullying or cheating." And like Blubaugh, she said, "I'll make more careful decisions and think about them more than I usually do."
Meagan Terseck, 15, said Ethics Day taught the students how to do the right thing. The scenario about cheating struck her the most, she said, "because it was so common at all schools, so it really stood out. We also learned to treat others the way we'd like to be treated and to treat everyone fairly."
Also impressed by the cheating scenario was Zahid Noori, 15. "How they introduced it to us — not just talking about it, but acting it out — got our attention," he said. "And I learned that ethics are important, not only in school, but in your whole life, your work and with your family. It helps you out in life to make the right choices and not end up in the same situation that the [characters in the scenarios] did."
Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge Gayl Carr participated in the event for her fourth year and says she does it from the heart.
"I think it's a good, community effort to help our youth make good choices and, possibly, avoid court involvement," she said. "One girl, a senior, said that she remembers doing this when she was a sophomore. And she stuck to her [ethics-based] positions and now is on her way to college. You start planting seeds ..."