Penn-Griffin School for the Arts junior Natalie Lucas plays her guitar during class as visitors from the State Department of Public Instruction visit instructor Mike Connors' class at Penn-Griffin School for the Arts, one of four Guilford County schools seen, Tuesday, March 10, 2015, in High Point, N.C.

GREENSBORO — At Brooks Global Studies Elementary, students and families recently gave up sugary drinks for two weeks.

They collected $1,426 — money they would have used to buy those drinks — and donated it to help build a well for a village in Rwanda.

That project is one example of how teachers at Brooks weave core subject instruction with lessons about being a good citizen at school, in the community and in the world.

It’s the type of work that has made Brooks Global and Guilford County Schools models for character education.

On Tuesday, state education officials walked the halls of some local schools to observe classes where lessons go beyond the basics of reading and math.

Character education is not about proselytizing, said Fay Gore, section chief of K-12 social studies for the state Department of Public Instruction.

“It really is a way to build engaged citizens who exhibit good character, leadership and service to their community,” said Gore, who is also the state’s character development coordinator.

On Tuesday, officials from the state and from Guilford County Schools questioned some Brooks Global Studies students about the schoolwide focus on the accessibility of water in different countries.

Principal Linda Kidd pointed to pictures of a well as she described the project for state officials.

The school’s hallways, already colorful with intricate murals, include displays of student works and photos of students being recognized for showing good character.

The officials marveled at a display in the hallway, where students described personal acts of courage — speaking in front of more than 3,000 people, braving the first day of school and bearing the painful sting of a needle during a vaccination.

Those activities and lessons observed at other schools will be used as examples of character education for other schools.

State law requires local boards of education to develop and implement character instruction. Officials have to integrate that instruction — and specific traits such as courage, good judgment, perseverance and respect — into the standard curriculum. But how that’s done is left to school officials.

Most school systems don’t focus on character education to the extent seen in Guilford County, officials said.

Superintendent Maurice “Mo” Green ramped up the focus on character education shortly after he was hired and after getting community feedback about discipline concerns.

Officials said what makes Guilford County stand out is that the emphasis on character development is strong from the central office down to individual classrooms.

The school system also hosts separate events to honor students with the top academic performance and those with the most service learning hours — Cool to Be Smart and Cool to Serve, respectively. Students win prizes such as iPods and iPads. The top prize is a new car.

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Contact Marquita Brown at (336) 373-7002, and follow @mbrownNR on Twitter.

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