CONOVER – Sixth-grader Irvin Delacruz was all smiles Wednesday and then all business as St. Stephens Elementary’s student council president greeted community guests to the school over the intercom.
He welcomed and thanked everyone for visiting his school during the 2017 Leadership Day. He then invited visitors to stop by classes to observe his fellow students and to not be afraid to ask questions.
It’s that kind of confidence all the students at St. Stephens Elementary have acquired since the Leader in Me program was introduced four years ago, and it will be the foundation of the school’s success as it begins its restart program.
“It makes the students more targeted on owning their learning,” Principal Kathy Keane said. “That’s the primary thing for me especially the habit of, having your end in mind. It’s about keeping our students focused on the learning and focused on a goal.”
She likes how Leader in Me creates high expectations and holds students accountable for reaching them.
“I think it teaches them everybody is equal when it comes to learning, and how much you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it,” Keane said.
The need to begin the restart program was in response to the school being defined as low-performing based on the state’s Department of Public Instruction accountability data from 2015-16. As of Feb. 6, 2016, the North Carolina State Board of Education (SBE) adopted an updated policy (115C-105.37B ) for recurring low-performing schools.
One of the requirements of the policy is the development of a school or district plan for improvement that specifically addresses the strategies the school or district will implement to improve both the school performance grade and school growth designation.
“One of the things with scores is believing in yourself, and one of those Leader in Me habits is start with the end in mind,” Keane said. “What we’re planning with the students is looking at the ending and working on that all the way from the beginning of school to the end, and we’ve boosted their confidence with this.”
Delacruz has seen the school with and without Leader in Me. He likes what the program brought to the school and is certain he is a better student and more assertive because of it.
“Before, we didn’t have that many activities to show our leadership skills,” Delacruz said.
Leader in Me is what inspired him to become so active in the student council and eventually seek out the president’s post. Being part of the program helped encourage him to think even further ahead.
“Sometimes people wait to figure out what they want to be until they finish high school, but right now, they’re preparing us so we’ll be ready for our future,” he said.
The school starts reminding students about high school graduation when their in kindergarten, identifying them by their graduation day. Without hesitation, Delacruz said he wants to be an architect.
The Leader in Me program was initiated at AB Combs Elementary in Raleigh in 1999 and has expanded to more than 1,500 schools worldwide since then. It is Franklin Covey’s whole school transformation process. The focus of the program is to build a foundation of life skills the students can use the rest of their lives.
The Leader in Me habits the students are taught include: 1. Be proactive; 2. Begin with the end in mind; 3. Put first things first; 4. Think win-win; 5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood; 6. Synergize; 7. Sharpen the saw; and 8. Find your voice.
Harper Pyatte is a third-grader so she’s only known the Leader in Me way and can’t imagine what a school would look like without it.
“It’s made me a better leader, and I’ve learned more about helping people,” Pyatte said. “When the teacher is in a group and another student doesn’t know what to do, I can just help them now.”
The habit she uses the most is, think win-win, because she knows sometimes it’s important to put other people ahead of herself.
“I want everybody to win and have everyone be part of it,” Pyatte said.
Fourth-grader Avigail Cadena also learned about the value of working together to reach goals from Leader in Me.
“You should never give up no matter what you’re doing,” Cadena said. “You can just work through it together.”
The student council’s vice president, sixth-grader Katlyn Williams, talked about one example of the habit synergy with a social studies project a group of students were working on together.
They created a display on the hall walls describing different religions in different countries.
“We’re working a lot on African countries, Judaism, Christianity, religions in China and Egypt, talking about caste systems,” Williams said. “It’s been really fun, and we’re still working on it.”
Her favorite Leader in Me habit is the theme of the school’s Leadership Day, “Find your voice,” because it reminds her not to be afraid to show her talents.
Keane sees this idea of making classes and school more engaging blossom more each day because of Leader in Me.
“They’re young, but they’re not shy, and we’ve seen the difference in character; how they’re treating each other,” Keane said. “That’s what I’m so excited about with the restart. We already have a great foundation to help keep us focused on it.”
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