Helpful. Awesome. Amazing. Inspiring. Cool. Epic. Fantastic. “Funtabulious.”

These are some of the words students in the No Excuses classroom at Washington High School use to describe the program. Now the term national award winner can be added to the list.

This year No Excuses was selected by the Character Education Partnership as a Promising Practice in Character Education.

The Character Education Partnership is a Washington, D.C., nonprofit, nonpartisan, coalition committed to fostering better character education.

Out of the record-breaking 537 applications, a total of 297 programs in 30 states, the District of Columbia, as well as Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong and Mexico were recognized as leaders in the international character education movement.

Missouri had the largest number of awards for a single state — 107 initiatives were designated innovative best practices.

Although No Excuses has been in effect at WHS for more than a decade, this award is its most significant form of recognition.

“We’re a little too busy to put in for our own awards,” said No Excuses Director Tim Branson.

Assistant Principal and A+ Coordinator Steven Pryor nominated No Excuses as a Promising Practice in January.

About No Excuses

Each year, No Excuses provides teens struggling or failing in the regular classroom with various types of structure, guidance and support for academic and personal growth.

“We don’t always give them what they want but, we give them what is right,” said Carol Wilka, paraprofessional assistant and founder of the No Excuses classroom.

Destiny McNuw, a senior, views the group as a family.

“(The teachers) care about every single one of us and they show it,” McNew said.

It’s impossible to identify a No Excuses student upon appearance. The group consists of athletes, musicians, singers, artists and honor roll students. Participants are from different economic backgrounds and social circles.

Junior Adem Yavuz said No Excuses is sometimes wrongly assumed to be all the troubled kids crammed in one room.

“We want the challenge,” Yavuz said. “We need an extra push and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

The program has high standards for class attendance and participation, as well as opportunities to further demonstrate responsibility and independence.

However, students often find themselves wanting a better word to describe for the life-shaping experience.

“Program is just too sterile,” said junior Joe McCarry.

Sophomore Nick Stork thinks the name No Excuses means the program is mandatory.

Dakota Hines, a junior, believes it is more than just another program.

“It’s not ordinary,” said Hines. “It’s extraordinary.”

Steven Siebert, a senior, transferred to Washington High School from a school in Indiana where he was failing. He said No Excuses has restructured his lifestyle and he appreciates the pay-it-forward aspects.

Students must participate in at least one extracurricular activity, perform a minimum of 15 hours of community service and host a handful of popular school events, such as powder puff football, holiday charities, a variety show and fashion show.

Prestigious Award

The Promising Practice Award, announced in May, not only recognized No Excuses as an effective strategy that develops good character, respects all learners and helps students succeed with meaningful and challenging academic curriculum. It also makes No Excuses worthy of national implementation.

As No Excuses continues its 16th year of operation, Wilka, recalls starting from nothing. She designed the program with the goal of achieving higher retention and completion rates among students struggling in traditional classrooms.

Students can be led to believe their ideas are invalid and their right to expression is void because of they way some alternative schools operate. But that isn’t the case with No Excuses.

It has evolved to suit students desires for continued academic support and social development. For example, the program initially only served freshmen. No Excuses became open to all grades when students started asking to stay beyond one year to ensure their personal success.

The 2012 recipients of Promising Practices awards have been invited to the 19th National Forum on Character Education, in Washington, D.C., Nov. 1–3.