It isn't always easy to make a decision based on ethics. But during a special program last week at the Westfields Marriott, some 740 Westfield High sophomores learned that character truly does count — in the classroom and the world beyond.
THE WESTFIELDS Marriott hosts Ethics Day each year, with help from the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce, local businesses and Westfield High. And the event always makes a big impression on the students participating.
Westfield High has taken part since it opened its doors, six years ago, and lead Assistant Principal Dave Jagels said it provides the students with valuable lessons. "It helps reinforce good, ethical decision-making," he said. "And it helps the students make better decisions."
The event consisted of a re-enactment of a court case, presided over by Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge Gayl Carr, plus skits in which 50 Westfield High senior leaders acted out scenarios involving business ethics and character education.
The actors developed their own skits, based on what they believe are some of the most relevant issues facing young people today. And afterward, they and other community leaders led discussions about them at each table of students.
They examined topics and questions such as: Trustworthiness: How important is trust in your relationships with friends and family? Respect: Does respect play a role in harmonious race relations?
Responsibility: What does being responsible have to do with the quality of your character? Fairness/justice: What does treating people fairly mean? What does it mean to be open-minded? Caring: To what extent would you inconvenience yourself for another person?
Citizenship: Do you have any responsibility to your school, community or nation — or only to yourself? Courage: What things in your life require moral courage? Diligence: What does attitude have to do with success? Integrity: How do you want to be remembered after you die? How far would you compromise your principles to get ahead?
Ethics Day was held last Monday, Nov. 20, and also helping out were Westfield social studies teachers Casey Burke, Phil Cox and Tom Sakole.
"WE'D SEEN the need for such a program and, hopefully, it's an extension of what the students are learning at home," said Burke. "And seeing how many of the business leaders, teachers, parents and community members took their time to do this shows the students how important it is."
Besides that, she said, "It's an eye-opener for parents, too, to hear their children's thoughts on these issues. So in the long run, everyone participating learns something."
In addition that day, the school and the Westfields Marriott signed an official, business-partnership agreement. Taking part were Westfield High Principal Tim Thomas; Courtney Bulger, in charge of such partnerships for the school system; and Stu Damon, general manager of the Westfields Marriott.
Capt. Bill Loan with the county Sheriff's Office led a table discussion as students decided the guilt or innocence of the person "on trial" before them for involuntary manslaughter. In this case, the driver's best friend got drunk at a party and, rather than having her parents find out, a girl decided to drive her friend home, herself.
"But she didn't have her license and had only driven twice, in a parking lot," said Chris Chung, 15. "It was her first time with a manual transmission, and she had other options to get the girl home. Another friend offered to drive them both."
He said everyone but one person at his table thought the driver was guilty, "and we got him to agree. It makes more sense to go with the safer decision, even if you have a consequence with your family. It's better to be safe than sorry and make stupid decisions that could harm someone's life."
"WE ALSO discussed a real case of a 19-year-old who was drinking and driving and killed his best friend," said Loan. "The driver had a basketball scholarship to GMU and lost it and became a convicted felon."
Loan said the students at his table were smart and insightful. "They actually seemed a lot less tolerant of bad behavior than adults," he said. "Having to live with the fact that you killed your best friend is a significant thing. I get to see lots of people who make bad choices — and some are life-changing experiences."
Teen Lorena Rodriguez said the court case was tough to decide because the driver was a good friend of the victim. Said Rodriguez: "She didn't know how to drive, but she had good intentions."
Ryan Oliver, 15, said the table discussion was a good experience because it gave the students a better understanding of "the way things really are in the world. Definitely, you should take the consequences with your parents, instead of the consequences of having your friend die or get seriously injured."
Becky King, also 15, said the driver had other available choices. "She could have gone home with the other guys or called her parents," said King. She said Ethics Day was valuable because "it teaches us what's right and wrong, and we can discuss it with each other. We can see the outcomes before they actually happen. So you should think things through before acting."
Teen Olivia Asby said the event "gives real-life examples of why ethics are important and gives you options on how to handle decisions you have to make. It'll probably make me pay more attention to how decisions you make can affect your life and how ethics are important in other areas of your life, like the working world."
Added Akash Gugilla, 15: "When we get into situations like we're discussing, [what we learned today] will help us make decisions easier about what to do. And it will make me think more about what choices I make and base them on ethics, morals and right and wrong."
ONE OF THE skits involved an underage brother and sister who got drunk at a party and were stopped by police while driving home. As a result, said Cesar Angulo, 16, their parents took their driver's licenses away and didn't let them drive for a long time. Said Angulo: "I learned that you should think about the choices you're going to make and how they'll affect your parents' trust."
Teen Rafia Virk saw a skit about rumors. "A girl said she was feeling bad about a school test — as bad as if she had a baby in her stomach," explained Virk. "But her friend thought she was really pregnant and spread a rumor. But in a replay of that scenario, when the friend tried telling it to someone, that person asked for proof and she didn't have any."
"I learned you have to make sure things are true, and don't spread rumors if you're not sure," said Virk. "And don't spread them at all." She said Ethics Day was valuable because "it helps you understand how to act, make good decisions and get out of bad situations. It teaches you to have good character and be responsible — don't cheat, drink or do drugs."
Police Officer J.W. Woloszyn of the Sully District Station participated in his first Ethics Day and was impressed by it. "It's good for the kids," he said. "It maybe gets them to think a little more and exposes them to some of the consequences."
And having the seniors do the skits and lead discussions was a good idea, said Woloszyn, because "while they're the sophomores' peers, they're also older people that [the sophomores] look up to, so it works out well for all of them."