Saint Mary’s in partnership with Synergy & Leadership Exchange hosted the Character Recognition Awards luncheon on May 17 on its Minneapolis campus. Six schools, leaders and community programs were honored in four different categories: Minnesota Ethical Leadership Award, Minnesota Promising Practices Award, Promising Principal Award, and Champion of Character.

The Minnesota Ethical Leadership Award celebrates community programs developing character strengths and ethical leadership skills in its participants. Two programs were recognized: Minnesota Rural Education Association and Resources for Recovery.

The Minnesota Rural Education Association is a membership organization serving public school districts throughout Greater Minnesota. As one voice they elevate rural education through legislative advocacy, information sharing, professional development and recognition. In Resources for Recovery, Minnesota Muslim youth explore their faith and civic identities through a cultural education immersion experience with the goal of gaining the positive developmental assets of connection, competence, confidence, and character, that builds their capacity to care and contribute to the civic life of their home communities. The program is a partnership between three Minnesota-based nonprofits: The Islamic Civic Society of America, Open Path Resources and the National Youth Leadership Council.

The Minnesota Promising Practices Award celebrates unique and effective practices schools and youth-serving organizations have implemented that promote character development.

North Star Junior Academy (DECS), Duluth, received a Minnesota Promising Practices Award for “Postcards from the Pandemic.” This is a weekly schoolwide journaling practice created to form connections and provide support for the school community during distance learning. St. Peter High School was honored for “Mental Warriors Club.” Mental Warriors is a club of students at St. Peter High School who aspire to grow their mindset, show empathy to others, and discover strategies and techniques to better equip themselves to handle the stresses of teenage life.

Committed to supporting educational leaders, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota established the Promising Principal Award to recognize principals who have served less than five years and demonstrate character-based leadership. “In the inaugural year of this award, I could not be more pleased to present this award to Mary Spring,” said Michael Hahn, Ph.D., assistant dean of the school of education at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. Spring is the principal of Lourdes High School in Rochester, a position that she has held since October 2020. “It is hard to put into words the impact that Mary has had on my life and the lives of everyone she encounters. She leads by example as she puts in countless hours to ensure that our students, faculty and staff find success and feel her support,” said a colleague about Spring.

The Champion of Character Award is presented to an individual who consistently demonstrates positive character as a visible leader and role model. Tony Sanneh was named as the 2022 Champion of Character. “Tony demonstrates the character strengths of courage, compassion, justice, resilience, critical thinking, and generosity daily in his words and actions,” said Hahn. Sanneh established the Sanneh Foundation in 2003 to support the holistic development of youth. The foundation’s signature programs Dreamline and Teacher Pathway focus directly on education and character development. Dreamline is an academic intervention program serving students throughout Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Saint Cloud, and Rochester. Teacher Pathway is a partnership program between the Sanneh Foundation and Saint Mary’s creating a supportive, accessible way for future educators to enter the field of teaching while earning a college graduate degree.

Deputy Commissioner Stephanie Burrage, Ed.D. shared a welcome from the Minnesota Department of Education and Benjamin Houltberg, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Search Institute delivered an inspiring keynote.

“There is no doubt that habits are important for character development but may not be sustainable over time. Habits that are also connected to contributing to something bigger than ourselves provide the fuel that help us grow and make an impact on those around us,” shared Houltberg.

The Character Recognition Awards is an annual event celebrating the achievements of schools, organizations and individuals that contribute to building character strengths and ethical leadership skills in youth throughout the state of Minnesota.