LAURINBURG — Whatever the 466 students at South Scotland Elementary School aspire to become, they are already learning to appreciate and cultivate the leadership qualities they will need in any profession.
Some 200 community members and educators from around the state visited South Scotland’s open house on Thursday, showcasing the Leader In Me program in place at the school. Students demonstrated the leadership roles they take on at school as well as the way the Leader In Me model encourages students to set both short and long term goals and work methodically to achieve them.
“My personal mission statement is to work hard and try my best,” said fourth grader Brantly Locklear as he showed visitors his leadership notebook — a compilation of his stated goals, most notable achievements and progress on graded tests.
“I try to be ready to start the day at school and and do my homework when I get home from school.”
Laah Manning, a third grader, shared how she and her fellow students chronicle their achievements and build on them throughout the school year.
“On this page I write how I can contribute in class and on the last page, I put the books that I’ve read and taken an Accelerated Reader test on,” she said. “It helps me because if my goals are low, I can look back and try harder and go even higher.”
Based on Steven Cover’s bestselling “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” the Leader In Me program is in use at South Scotland for the third year. Complementing rather than supplanting traditional instruction, the program is used by some 35 schools in North Carolina and more than 1,500 worldwide.
Though leadership is not taught as a subject alongside reading, math, and science, South Scotland’s teachers incorporate the language of the seven habits — be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first, and think win-win among them — as they guide their students’ learning in those subjects.
Perhaps the most tangible evidence of the role of leadership at South Scotland is the school’s Lighthouse Team, a group of students from all grades who introduce new students to the seven habits and meet after school to plan and execute school awards programs.
Though subtly delivered, the lesson of the seven habits tends to stick, as South Scotland Principal Angela Gallagher discovered during a dinner out at a local restaurant before she became principal of the school.
“One of the lighthouse members was there, and she was talking to her little brother and I just kind of turned around and I was like: that sounds like the habit language,” she said. “Sure enough, it was the president of the student lighthouse team. I realized that this is something that’s very real. She was telling him to put first things first and eat his dinner — she was going at it.”
During Thursday’s program, first grade students described the leadership roles taken on by everyone from the school’s bus driver and custodian to the city police chief and U.S. president. A group of third graders played a guessing game with the audience, selecting well-known leaders like Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Native American warrior Crazy Horse and abolitionist Harriet Tubman and providing clues as to their identity.
In another skit, fourth graders stepped into the roles of various professionals, including college professor, baker, and Navy SEAL, testifying to their adherence to the seven habits in pursuit and achievement of their professional goals.
Many in attendance Thursday visited from schools in other districts considering adopting the program themselves. A group from Wilton Elementary School in Granville County noted that level of investment the students showed in the presentation.
“Our students do a lot, but they don’t have as much leadership as they do here,” said teaching assistant Sherri Wilkins. “If we’re making the decisions, they’re not buying into it as much as if they made that decision instead of us doing it for them.”
Leslie Petrozello, a fifth-grade teacher, concurred.
“It really changes how much they’ll put in if they own something,” she said. “I think that’s the big push, if they’re in charge and they feel that ownership, they’ll put more in.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 17. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.