January 24, 2014

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

‘Highly effective’ program helps school form students into leaders

Lauren Graves, left, an eighth-grade student at St. Joan of Arc School in Indianapolis, eats lunch on Jan. 13 with Emily Wright, second from right, and Dorinda Bartone, both first-grade students at the Indianapolis North Deanery School. Graves and other older students at St. Joan of Arc help younger students during their lunch to help them develop leadership skills as a part of “The Leader in Me” program. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Lauren Graves, left, an eighth-grade student at St. Joan of Arc School in Indianapolis, eats lunch on Jan. 13 with Emily Wright, second from right, and Dorinda Bartone, both first-grade students at the Indianapolis North Deanery School. Graves and other older students at St. Joan of Arc help younger students during their lunch to help them develop leadership skills as a part of “The Leader in Me” program. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

“Be proactive.” “Begin with the end in mind.” “Think win-win.”

These are three habits that the late businessman and author Stephen R. Covey wrote about in his 1989 best-seller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

In the 25 years since it was released, 15 million copies of the book in 38 languages have been sold. And it’s spawned scores of workshops and seminars to help businesspeople become effective leaders in the workplace and to grow their businesses.

In 2008, Covey wrote The Leader in Me to apply the principles he had laid out in his previous book to schools so that students could be formed at a young age to be effective leaders.

For the past year and a half, the students, faculty and staff at St. Joan of Arc School in Indianapolis have incorporated the principles of The Leader in Me to help the students flourish, grow in knowledge and become the people that God has created them to be.

The Indianapolis North Deanery school is one of more than 1,500 schools across the country that have entered a process based on Covey’s book.

“The terminology of the program is used throughout the school universally,” said Joe Feezer, assistant principal at St. Joan of Arc. “The seven habits are displayed in the classroom. You hear the teachers speak that lingo, ‘Let’s have a win-win situation.’ The students know it, understand it and use it themselves.”

Although the book and its terminology are secular in nature, St. Joan of Arc has taken steps to incorporate its Catholic identity into the program.

For example, Father Guy Roberts, pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish, helped the school community see connections between Covey’s seven habits and the Beatitudes. These connections are taught and discussed in the school’s religion classes. Sayings about leadership and service from Scripture and the saints are painted on the walls of the school’s hallways.

“It’s given the students another perspective” on the Catholic faith, said Mary Pat Sharpe, St. Joan of Arc principal. “They see another piece that we didn’t necessarily emphasize [before].”

The students know and understand the seven habits because the process used to make it a part of St. Joan of Arc is not a program isolated from the rest of the daily life at the school. It’s integrated into its curriculum, service projects and even how lunches are served and students are dismissed at the end of each school day.

Many of the tasks in those settings that would have been carried out in the past by teachers or administrators are now the responsibility of older students, thus giving them the opportunity to put into practice the leadership principles they learn about in the classroom.

For example, when students gather in the school gym to be dismissed at the end of the day, older students take charge of the situation.

“There is an adult in there kind of supervising it. But it’s all student-driven,” Feezer said. “We have a student calling out on a microphone the names of students to go out. We have students getting them lined up, walking them outside and making sure that they get to their cars. It’s entirely student-driven.”

St. Joan of Arc eighth-grader Lauren Graves regularly helps younger students with their lunch and recess time. She enjoys it, but knows that it doesn’t come as easy to other students. “The Leader in Me” process, though, helps students develop skills they might not initially be inclined to use, according to Lauren.

“Being a leader, you’ve got to be able to work with situations that may not be comfortable for you,” Lauren said. “But I’ve seen kids grow as people.”

The growth doesn’t just occur at the middle school level where Lauren is. St. Joan of Arc fifth-grader Brooklyn Thorpe helped organize an anti-drug campaign that took place at the school last October.

Instead of having a teacher assign specific tasks to students for the campaign as might have happened in the past, the students who organized the campaign developed its themes and activities with much less input from teachers.

“Usually the teachers all plan it out and you just do what they tell you,” Brooklyn said. “But being able to make up the ideas and go to the classrooms was really nice.

“It was helpful because you actually go to work with people and come up with the ideas. But then you also [learn] how to organize ideas without making it a big mess.”

As St. Joan of Arc goes forward with “The Leader in Me,” the program will help prepare its young students to be leaders as they grow older and move on to high school and beyond.

Lauren has been a student at St. Joan of Arc for 10 years, starting in its pre-school program. Right now, she’s considering applying to attend either Cathedral High School or Bishop Chatard High School, both in Indianapolis, in the fall.

And although she’s only participated in “The Leader in Me” since seventh grade, she knows that it will help her hit the ground running in high school.

“I will be much more organized when I go into high school,” she said. “Organization helps when you’re building a new routine somewhere else. I’ve never been anywhere else [than St. Joan of Arc]. So it’s going to be a really big step for me to move on from this school.

“To have these social skills, organizational skills and leadership skills and put them into practice will help me give high school my best shot.”
 

(To learn more about “The Leader in Me” process, log on to www.theleaderinme.org. To learn more about St. Joan of Arc School in Indianapolis, log on to www.sjoa.org/school.)

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