It’s not easy being a middle school student. Young people routinely face issues like bullying and peer pressure, often amid challenging circumstances like unstable home lives and neighborhood violence.


In the fall of 2016, United Way of Central Carolinas and the Carolina Panthers teamed up with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Cabarrus County Schools to introduce Character Playbook, an innovative digital learning experience that uses evidence-based strategies to educate students on how to cultivate and maintain healthy relationships during critical middle school years.


“The Carolina Panthers are pleased to partner with the United Way of Central Carolinas and other United Way chapters in our region to provide the Character Playbook program to serve middle school students,” said Panthers director of community relations Riley Fields. “The Character Playbook content engages students in a unique way while providing CMS teachers with an innovative resource to enhance their character education curriculum and foster student discussion.”


Launched in 12 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and five Cabarrus County Schools in August, the digital learning experience enabled 6th-9th graders to engage with true-to-life scenarios that include bystander intervention strategies and positive relationship examples. The course is comprised of six interactive, digital modules that cover key concepts around positive character development, social-emotional learning, and building healthy relationships. The graphic novel style of the course engaged the students in interactive educational activities that challenge them to better understand their own values and relationships with others.


“The resource was effective as each module provided a level of actualized relevance for all participants,” said Sandra Staton, Career and Technical Education Department Chairperson, Alexander Graham Middle School, one of the CMS schools that implemented Character Playbook.


The program contains formative assessments and pre- and post-surveys which are used to track knowledge gains and changes in attitudes and behaviors. Values like diligence, compassion and respect are not necessarily innate values – they are learned through experience and teaching.


“We are extremely grateful for our partners that provide resources to support the social and emotional growth of our students,” said Erica Jordan-Thomas, principal at Ranson Middle School. “Knowing the unique role character education plays in a middle school, we are thankful for the Carolina Panthers and the United Way of the Central Carolinas for providing this resource to our school.”


With the success of the program, CMS ended the school year with 14 schools actively participating in the Character Playbook program.


“We’re grateful to the NFL and the Carolina Panthers for helping us support students at a critical stage of their lives,” said Sean Garrett, United Way of Central Carolinas’ executive director. “This character development platform helps students create positive relationships to become leaders in their schools and in their neighborhoods, leveraging the Panthers’ popularity in a way that strengthens our community.”


Pictured: Character Playbook training and introduction kickoff  for teachers and administrators hosted by United Way of Central Carolinas at Bank of America Stadium. (fall 2016)