Harlingen Cardinals: Bringing CharacterStrong to Life in High School

Houston Kraft · May 14, 2019

Many of us in our search for meaning and significance in our lives, whether we realize it or not, tend to view our worthiness in terms of a math problem:

My performance + others’ opinions of me = my self-worth.

Harlingen High School is motivated to make a difference and, between increased grades, reduced referrals, and an overall uptick in positive prosocial behaviors, they are off to an incredible start.


Like any great journey, they will tell you that the process hasn’t been all simple or easy. In fact, it’s been a multi-year process to truly create critical buy-in and enthusiasm around the work. But from Imelda the Principal, to Joseph the Assistant Superintendent, to the students of HHS - there are key stakeholders from around the district who will tell you that the results have been worth the fight through the resistance.

For Harlingen, their CharacterStrong journey started when they saw our co-founders, John & Houston, present at a Student Council Advisors Conference 3 years ago. Veronica, the student council sponsor at HHS, went to a workshop and was inspired into action. In by-the-book implementation form, Veronica brought a small team, including Harlingen’s Principal Imelda, to one of our Educator Trainings a few hours away. The team walked away inspired and equipped to go back and begin to do the oft-challenging work of introducing something new to the full staff. The key ingredients?

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  1. A Principal with the vision and tenacity to say, “This is what we are about here.”

  2. A passionate Teacher who is willing to take on some of the day to day work of implementation.

  3. A team of staff members who are responsible for creating a system of accountability and reminders to begin implementing the work with fidelity.

  4. An Assistant Superintendent who believed in the work enough to bring out the CharacterStrong team for professional development and continued training support.

At the beginning (and even still!), there are staff and students who weren’t (or aren’t) quite bought in. But Imelda and Veronica know that this work 1) just needs 80% of staff on board as a critical mass to move forward and 2) that this is a multi-year endeavor to change paradigms, habits, and norms on campus.

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We got a chance to sit down with some of these people and get their insight into how CharacterStrong has supported the great work they are doing as a school - both with staff and students. Whether it’s K-5, middle school, or high school, we are reminded often that this work is both 1) hard and 2) worth it! The older we get, the harder it is for us to change our routines and keep something like “kindness” relevant and engaging. But, as the educators and teens of Harlingen HS will tell you in the video below, “we all share this world.” So let’s work together to make it better!




Check out Harlingen High School here


Houston Kraft

Houston Kraft is the co-founder of CharacterStrong. He is a professional speaker and kindness advocate who has spoken at over 600 events internationally. Student Body President in High School, Class President at Bowdoin College, Leadership Camp Staff for 14 years in Washington - he is a lifelong learner of character, culture, kindness, and leadership. He was featured in 2019 on BBQ Lays Potato Chips and his mom's lasting life lesson is "Hug like you mean it."