Raising Men: With the launch of emotional intelligence initiative ‘Character Strong’, all-boys high school reframes masculinity

Character Strong
This school year, the homeroom period at Chaminade High School has been extended by 25 minutes, to make way for a new program known as "Character Strong".

This article is one of the winning submissions from the New York Post Scholars Contest, presented by Command Education.

“Am I good enough?”

“What’s wrong with me?”

“Why did I do that?”

Although these thoughts are universally expressed and felt by young people, they often slip by unnoticed, and many suffer in silence, particularly young men. This school year, the homeroom period at Chaminade High School has been extended by 25 minutes, to make way for a new program known as “Character Strong”.

Founded by professional speaker and author Houston Kraft, “Character Strong” strives to teach the “whole child”, by imparting emotional intelligence skills and promoting deeper relationships with students’ peers. The initiative develops specified curricula and group-centered activities, which are implemented by teachers at select times during the school day.

These diverse activities range from introspective dialogues about personal challenges to reflecting on emotionally provocative images or simply enjoying board games with one’s friends.

Since its inception in 2016, the program has been instituted in both public and private schools in all 50 states and over 40 countries, serving nearly 7 million students. At Chaminade, the program takes place twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays before first period.

As opposed to using electronic devices, sophomore homeroom moderator and AP World History teacher Mr. Garcia plays the popular guessing game “GeoGuessr” with his class, in which one is given an image of somewhere in the world and has to guess using their geography knowledge where in the world they are being shown. Additionally, he lets the class participate in energetic karaoke performances, singing to Taylor Swift’s “You Belong with Me”.

Alternatively, sophomore homeroom B engages in introspective class dialogues, responding to given prompts. Said prompts deal with more personal topics, including questions pertaining to regrets, feelings of failure and isolation. In response to the prompt “What is something you regret doing this past year?” a sophomore talked about his feelings of isolation and his lack of attention to friendships. “I really neglected the relationships I had with a lot of my friends and have since fallen out of touch with them. I feel really angry at myself for letting that happen and it’s been very hard to get through school and life in general feeling empty all the time.”

Despite being in an all-male environment, in which one might not expect an empathetic response, this powerful expression led to an immediate supportive response, in which other students comforted him, and even went as far as to offer him a seat at the lunch table later that day. This response could come at no better time.

Despite men making up just under 50% of the total U.S. population, men make up over 80% of all suicides. Furthermore, men across all ages and backgrounds were less likely to seek professional help, with 21% of women in the United States having gone to a therapist in the year 2021 as opposed to only 12% of men.

This destructive practice of internalizing pain does not just apply to the most severe cases, with a survey of men in the U.K. done by the Priory Group showing that four out of every 10 men in the nation wouldn’t discuss their mental health with anyone, even family, friends and medical professionals. The crisis of men’s mental health has become so severe that the leading cause of death in men under the age of 50 is suicide.

The root of the issue stems from deep social norms in society. A survey conducted by the men’s mental health group Movember, found that more than a third of adult American men felt under pressure to behave in a “masculine way”, with an even further 60% feeling that society would ostracize them if they were to talk about their feelings. The same group surveyed also stated that they were afraid to talk about their feelings, at the expense of being deemed “not manly” or “girly” by society.

Men are suffering in silence, and this needs to change. All-male environments, such as Chaminade High School, are leading the charge in helping young men improve themselves emotionally, by introducing programs like “Character Strong” while students are at the ideal moment to change their habits and world views. In the short time this program has been present at the school, students have not only begun to see the changes, but feel the changes.

When interviewed about his mental health now in comparison to September, sophomore Connor C. shares, “I’ve really just felt lighter. I no longer feel this empty and heavy feeling in my chest every day. School has become in many ways a happy place for me, which is really surprising because, since freshman year, I always felt a bit isolated and cut off, using my iPad during homeroom. The first time I kinda remember that changing was back in mid-October, when during a ‘Character Strong’ conversation, I talked to someone who I didn’t really know too well and we ended up having a lot of the same interests and world views. I’ve become really close friends with him since then.”

A 10th-grader at Chaminade High School in Mineola, NY, Breen aspires to be an OB-GYN.