Character Development Curriculum

Program Philosophy

MVJRC offers a cognitive-behavioral and social skills development program in which problem solving strategies are modeled, practiced, and reinforced. Youth are encouraged to re-define themselves in socially responsible and personally fulfilling ways. The program targets criminal thinking as well as the effects of trauma and victimization by challenging cognitive distortions, pro-criminal attitudes/values, negative peer associations, substance abuse, and unhealthy expressions of anger. Much of the design of the MVJRC program is based on precepts from the following sources: “Reclaiming Youth at Risk” by Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg, and Steve VanBockern, “Skillstreaming” by Arnold Goldstein, “Inside the Criminal Mind” by Stanton Samenow and Samuel Yochelson, “Reality Therapy” by William Glasser, and “Rational-Emotive Therapy” by Albert Ellis. The integrity of the program is supported by adhering to the standards and procedures of the American Correctional Association. The program is delivered by a highly trained staff dedicated to providing youth a safe and structured learning environment that promotes pro-social behavior.

Circle of Courage

The framework of the program is the Circle of Courage which serves two purposes. First, the circle structures the presentation of the Character Development Curriculum. There are two sessions each day scheduled for teaching, practicing and testing.

The second purpose of the Circle of Courage is to delineate the stages of the program and serve as a guide and measure for growth and advancement. Youth progress through the program by completing a “Journey Book” pursuant to the four basic principles of development of the Circle of Courage: Belonging, Mastery, Independence and Generosity. Each stage takes at least thirty-seven (37) days to complete. A 5th “Graduate” stage occurs upon completion of the “Journey Book”. During this stage, youth finalize their stay as they prepare to return to the community.

Character Traits of the Circle of Courage

Character Traits of the Circle of Courage (JPG)
Lessons regarding each trait are presented during two groups each day. Each trait takes
five (5) days to complete.

Day 1

The focus of the first day is to broadly define the trait and discuss its
applications to daily life.

Day 2

The focus of the second day is to present parables that illustrate the trait. These parables provide a visual picture which may be used to cue the youth. Based on the premise that negative self-talk is the root of poor decision making, these parables are intended to arm the youth with positive self talk to help counteract the negative self-talk that led to their current state of incarceration. These parables are based on universal principles of wisdom, and together form a language that quickly and effectively informs decision-making in a positive manner.

Days 3 and 4

The focus of the third and fourth day is Skillstreaming (Goldstein). The central goal of Skillstreaming is social skills training for interpersonally skill deficient and chronically aggressive youth. The process moves from skill definition to skill modeling by trainers, role playing by trainees, feedback by participants, and assigned homework outside the group. Examples of social skills that are taught include Responding to Failure, Dealing with Group Pressure and Getting Ready for a Difficult Conversation.

Day 5

The focus of the fifth day is Samanau’s Thinking Errors, one related to each trait. For example the thinking error “victim stance” is related to the trait of inner control. Staff demonstrate the thinking error concept utilizing a "cost-benefit analysis" model.

Youth are required to demonstrate an understanding of the concepts taught, as staff quiz the youth daily over the information presented. Progress through the program partially depends on a demonstration of knowledge as measured by testing and behavior.