VINELAND – Character education lessons usually don’t involve team jerseys and rally towels.
But when a couple of Philadelphia Eagles are the guest speakers, the message is one to hear and cheer.
On Monday, Chris Maragos and Mack Hollins live chatted with students at a half-dozen schools in their team's area as part of a character education program partnership between the NFL and United Way. Veterans Memorial Intermediate was the lone South Jersey school on the roster.
Students are participating in a digital course, “Character Playbook,” developed by EVERFI, a digital learning company.
“We’ve have about 200 kids come to my classroom on a daily basis,” teacher Jack Martine told The Daily Journal. He explained the interactive program helps middle school students learn how to cultivate and maintain healthy relationships.
About 40 Veterans Memorial students with good behavior and academic excellence won a seat in the school’s media center for the Eagles event. The school mascot, Sgt. Roary, was there too, perhaps hoping to see his Eagles’ counterpart, Swoop.
“What’s going on guys,” the players asked, setting a frenzy towel wave as well as the public broadcasting debut of Tyla Nottingham. The eighth-grader was first to put a question to the Eagles players, asking them what “character” meant to them.
There was no time to fret. Tyla found out moments before the cyber-interview that she would be the voice of Veterans Memorial.
“It was nerve-wracking, but it was really exciting, I really enjoyed it,” she said, after posing the question with professional-grade polish. It got her inspired about a possible in career in journalism.
“I do the morning announcements for the school,” Tyla said.
Hollins, a wide receiver, answered her question.
“Character is something that was instilled in me when I was younger from my parents,” he said. “It’s doing what’s right even when they’re not around, knowing that if they were there, I would be doing something that would be making them proud.”
The players urged students to be true to themselves.
“If you know who you are, and you know the types of things you want to accomplish as a person, you need to go ahead and accomplish those things,” said Maragos, a safety. “You can do anything in life. Mack and I come from way different areas but as kids we knew who we were, and we knew what we wanted to accomplish, and we were able to be Super Bowl Champions this past year with the Philadelphia Eagles.”
“You can do anything you set your mind to and that you work hard at,” Maragos said.
Be confident, Hollins told students.
“I know it all sounds super corny, your parents probably all tell you you’ve got to believe in yourself but it’s the truth,” he said. “If you don’t believe in you, I can promise you no one else will.”
Youngsters asked how the players address conflict resolution.
“There are plenty of times when you are playing football and you get a little mad, whether it’s bad play, or something happens, and you think the ref is going to call a flag and he didn’t, the first thing I do is take a deep breath,” Hollins said.
Take the breath and take time to think, Maragos urged.
“A lot of the time when you get mad, initially you are not thinking clear,” he said. “The consequences can be good or bad based on the decisions that you make.”
Maragos recommended students talk with friends and sometimes, they might offer some good advice.
Be willing to listen, Hollins said.
“A lot the people don’t want to hear what other people have to say,” he said. “There has to be some sort of common ground between two people no matter how different they may be.”
After the players signed off, eighth-grader Gerald Wilkes said he was impressed that the players took time to talk with students.
“I found it cool,” he said.
“You have some people that just think they are on top and they’re not worried around any other people other than themselves,” he said, noting the Eagles players weren’t like that.
Deborah M. Marko: 856-563-5256; ; Twitter: @dmarko_dj