Students greeted the community leaders with a firm handshake and thanked them for coming to the event. Students also helped showcase the program through a video and song presentation.
“We want the mission of Bradley County Schools to be that, from the time our students step into pre-K until the time they leave 12th grade and they graduate, they are learning about leadership and leadership skills,” said Sheena Newman, supervisor for elementary education.
The program takes each of the state-required Character Education themes and looks at it through the lens of leadership. The program has eight principles that teach these character traits in a sailing-themed program. Newman said the principles taught in the program are “powerful for students.” She said surveys with community business leaders and parents have reinforced the importance of students having good leadership skills. She pointed out to the community members that the principles in the program are the same principles they use every day.
“We had looked at a student leadership program for a number of years. ... What you will find when you look at leadership programs is that there is a lot of things for high school but there is not hardly anything for elementary,” Newman said.
Finally, Bradley County Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel encouraged Newman to develop her own innovations. The idea to use sailing as a backdrop came to Newman when day when she was about to go to bed.
Holly Kyle illustrated the ideas for posters in the school. In one of her drawings, Kyle put a crow in the crows nest of a sailing ship. From this drawing, Newman developed a book that she hopes to be able to print and provide for every elementary school classroom. The book will highlight each of the eight principles of the leadership program.
“We believe that Leaders for Life fits right in with our move toward Common Core,” McDaniel said.
Common Core is a set of educational standards that has been adopted by 45 states. The standards focus on challenging students to have a deeper understanding of material.
In addition to teaching leadership skills, the new focus can serve as an anti-bullying plan, substance abuse prevention plan and a mentoring program, Newman said. She said through the leadership focus students are being mentored by teachers and staff, and students are mentoring each other
“It is a continual journey you never stop ... you just set new goals,” Newman said.
Some students have never been encouraged to be leaders.
Goal Academy school counselor Rhonda Parris told a story of a student who said he had never had anyone tell him he could be a leader. However, after his time at Goal he left determined to be a leader in his high school.
Parris led school and community administrators in an activity to demonstrate how students can work better with other students and teachers.
Parris encouraged the adults present to take time to listen to students and allow them to be a part of projects and planning.
Giving students leadership opportunities gives them a feeling that they have a place in the community, she said.