Picture this!  The World 2018! Over 1 million times a week Rotarians from all over the globe are reciting the 4-way test in over 100 languages.  And, here, in Victoria, Texas we have over 5500 students, grades kindergarten thru grade five, repeating the 4-way test or hearing it every school day. 
In a world where truth is hard to come by and the youth seem so misdirected in many parts of the country, we feel fortunate that in Victoria to have a school district, parents and community that recognize the importance of bringing up a child with a good moral compass.  The Early Act First Knight (EAFK) program has given us a beacon of hope.
The EAFK Program was founded by CEO, Dr. Randall Parr.  Dr. Parr formed the Knights of The Guild in 1994 after serving as a Navy officer for many years. In the Navy he recognized the decline in moral values in many of the recruits.  With a background in the entertainment industry and ethics training in the military, he created a national award-winning approach to childhood character building based on the Rotary Four Way Test.
Dr. Parr recognized the value for a good character education program to be effective, it must also be frequent, strongly reinforced and made relevant, fascinating and rewarding to children.  Early Act First Knight creatively accomplishes the mission through a unique method of making the subject material an exciting, pervasive experience.  The program includes proprietary elements, such as: year-round campus visits by real armored knights; action-packed performances with jousting knights and live horses; student mentorship by local community business leaders and an exclusive, daily online classroom curriculum; and spectacular school-wide knighting ceremonies to acknowledge student achievement.  In its 12th year, the program is on 95 campuses throughout Texas and eight campuses in South Carolina.
This year the Victoria jousting performance occurred in January.  Students were bused to the community center for the event.  It was an exciting exhibition for the kids and it is wonderful for them to have a knight-in-shining-armor set an example.  The three Victoria Rotary Clubs held a joint luncheon to celebrate the program and see the joy in the children’s eyes as they watched Sir Cass and Sir James compete on their horses. Our incoming president, Neal Stevenson, attending the jousting ceremony for the first time, described it to his wife as a cross between WWE and the Kentucky Derby.
In Proverbs 22:6 we read,  “Train up a child into the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Our future rests in our children and in Victoria, Texas it starts with the elementary school program of EAFK, based on the Four Way Test and sponsored by the Victoria Rotary Clubs.
When the program was introduced to Victoria at a trial school 9 years ago, teachers were reticent to take 10 minutes daily for the EAFK virtue curriculum including compassion, confidence, citizenship, discipline, honesty, friendliness, perseverance, respect, responsibility, service, tolerance and trustworthiness. Teachers were concerned about losing precious teaching time, but within a few weeks, they began to recognize how much the EAFK program could benefit their school and their students. 
Disciplinary problems diminished quickly and dramatically, leaving the teacher more time to teach and the principal better able to manage the school day.  Soon teachers from the other schools were begging to be part of the program.  With the school district and all three Victoria Rotary clubs committed to EAFK, we were able to gradually increase the number of schools participating and now all 14 elementary schools within the Victoria Independent School District are teaching the EAFK curriculum. Today when a student is sent to the principal’s office, the first order of business is to recite the Rotary 4-Way Test and then the student needs to explain how his/her behavior falls into line with the test.   
Every six weeks a knight-in-shining armor visits the school for an award ceremony. The stage is set with a castle background and some teachers dress in renaissance mode to make the event even more celebratory.  There are two sessions at each school with the younger children going first.  It is not hard to imagine the excitement and anticipation created by the event.  The teacher, and in many cases, students, select the one or two students in their class who has most exemplified the virtue that was taught the previous month.  The younger children are called to the stage to receive a certificate and medal, as pages or squires.  During the second session, the older children are called to the stage to be knighted with the sword.  Many times, parents are waiting secretly in the wings with flowers, balloons or candy to celebrate with their child. 
At the end of each ceremony, the children recite the 4-Way Test…It is really more like a cheer, as they hold up their fingers shouting 1.  Is it the Truth? 2. It is Fair to all concerned?…etc.  If you could hear the enthusiasm and see the innocence in these elementary school children reciting the 4-Way Test, it would make you smile or giggle and it would warm your hearts. 
Is it the truth?  We believe in the importance of recognizing the truth and telling the truth.  It is pretty hard as adults to sometimes recognize the truth. But as a Rotarian, we know the truth comes from within. We have to trust our belief and our hearts rather than believe everything in the media.  What EAFK values and benefits are represented by truth?  Confidence, respect and trustworthiness are all attributes and virtues of truth. In business, in community, in family…the truth helps give individuals  a sense of worth.  Children learn honesty thru good role models such as: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends and, in Victoria, a knight-in-shining-armor.
Is it fair to all concerned?  A couple of virtues included in the EAFK program used to teach this part of the Four Way Test are responsibility and tolerance. Fairness is a difficult concept to teach to child who often equates what is fair to how many cookies I have and how many you have.  In attending one of the knighting ceremonies held six times each year at the EAFK schools, it is easy to see these children are learning those skills.  They are so excited the knight is in their school and they celebrate with those students who are being knighted.  It does not appear they are jealous, but certainly enthused about working towards being knighted.
Will it build good will and better friendships?  How does EAFK address building good will and better friendships? The tactile component of EAFK allows students to experience the real-world application of their curriculum education. Each EAFK school has a student service club, led by student officers and guided by Rotarians and faculty advisors. They meet twice a month to plan and facilitate one local and one international service project with voluntary aid from the student body. One of the elementary schools in Victoria raises funds to help out an orphanage in Angola.  This act of charity helps a child to experience what it means to give, to help others.  Some schools are more disadvantaged, but they somehow find a project they can support and one that won’t interfere with family finances. 
Will it be beneficial to all concerned?  Children are working together to make things happen. They are learning to recognize and appreciate the world beyond Victoria, Texas and they recognize the needs of others throughout the country and the world. Children are working together towards a common goal. The benefits are in teambuilding, friendships, building character based on good, strong values and they are benefiting not only their hearts, but those of children beyond Victoria. Their innocence and belief in good should give adults cause for hope.
In addition to a monetary commitment, each of the three Rotary Clubs assist with the service component and two or more members attend each knighting ceremony.
In the lyrics of Whitney Houston, “I believe the children are our future…teach them well and let them lead the way.”  By following our hearts and supporting Early Act First Knight, the Victoria Rotary Clubs are not only making our world a better place, but insuring a better tomorrow.

For more information on Early Act First Knight, visit www.eafk.org