Places & Faces
Young Leaders Develop Seven Effective Habits
4/3/2013 10:11:01 AM

The process, FranklinCovey’s "Leader in Me,” is a simplified version of the principles made famous in

Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly EffectivePeople.
The process has grown locally in the three short years since the Southwest Louisiana Chamber/ Economic Development Alliance learned of it and quickly championed it locally.

"We were at a Chamber conference in Raleigh in 2009,and Combs Elementary students made a presentation about the process,” said George Swift, president and CEO of the Alliance. A.B. Combs Leadership Magnet Elementary was a troubled North Carolina school that adopted the principles of Covey’s best-selling book—principles that are designed to create an environment that allows every person to feel valued for their unique gifts and talents.

The school’s effort to develop the whole child – socially, emotionally, academically and ethically – fosters a climate of principle-centered and personal leadership. Adopting Covey’s Seven Habits "turned Combs into the one of the nation’s best schools and got everyone’s attention,” Swift said. "We were impressed. We came back to Southwest Louisiana and talked to our board, and educators and superintendents in five parishes. We were determined to prepare our young people by implementing that process in our schools.”

The Leader in Me is a process for teaching students personal leadership and life skills, such as goal-setting, time management, teamwork, problem solving, respecting diversity and life balance. According to Alliance Workforce and Talent Director Nancy Kelley, who oversees Leader in Me, the program develops the fundamental workforce needed to sustain the region and provides students with the tools needed to determine and reach personal potential.

Dolby Elementary was the first school in the region to implement the process and the results have been dramatic, according to principal Missy Bushnell. Dolby has experienced a reduction in the number of discipline issues and referrals. The school has developed a multifaceted approach to leadership and mastered a new language between adults and children on everything from daily tasks to daily behavior.

At Oak Park Elementary, children have taken the seven habits to heart. Third-grader Sean Robinson says his favorite Leader in Me habit is to put first things first. "If you have a test and the teacher says you can go outside when you’re done, you need to think on your test and finish your job and then you can go play.” Classmate Alexis Ceasar says she likes to synergize. "We can all work together,” she says. "Instead of wanting to be by yourself, you can be with someone.”

Oak Park Elementary implemented the program through a sponsorship provided by the city of Lake Charles, led in support by Mayor Randy Roach. The cost of Leader in Me is about $50 per child. Nationwide, about one-third of the processes are funded all or in part by sponsorships, including chambers of commerce or private donors.

Area automobile dealer John Stelly has agreed to underwrite the cost to implement the program at three additional schools. Stelly said he supports Leader in Me "wholeheartedly, because it’s not just a short-term process. It’s ongoing and promotes a culture of continuous improvement. It empowers kids for the future, for life,” noting that this process "provides a foundation of economic strength for the future.” "Judge each day not by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant. I believe that by partnering with (Leader in Me), we are planting seeds,” Stelly says.

Local educators agree that the results have been immeasurable. "We use data to measure what students know and are able to do while they’re with us during their elementary years. There is no way to measure greatness, integrity and leadership. However, this way of thinking develops leaders of our schools and eventually, our workforce,” says TerryCollins, principal at W. T. Henning Elementary in Sulphur. "When school started the habits immediately came to life throughout the school. All students at Henning are leaders. Students and teachers are talking a new language, such as ‘let’s be proactive,’ or ‘let’s synergize to complete this assignment.’ Our parents want to know more because students are going home and telling their parents, ‘Put first things first. I neeed to do my homework, then I can play.’”

The benefits go far beyond the classroom or the home, adds Oak Park Elementary principal Melinda Hardy. The nurturing of leadership at school also creates a positive perception overall. "One of the greatest benefits is the positive perception of my school, positive school culture and enormous support from the local community,” Hardy said.

Third-grade students Demauria Johnson and Caleb Blakely have both embraced the mindset of creating win/win situations and being proactive. "When you have ideas, you can always have a winwin,” Demauria says. Caleb notes that having a proactive attitude helps keep you in line: "It teaches you to always do right. You’re in charge of yourself.”

Each school says their educational climate has been enriched because of the new mindset instilled in teachers and children. "The culture of the school has been transformed,” Collins says.There are nearly 1,135 schools worldwide in The Leader in Me process, according to the SWLA Alliance.

The Alliance hopes to bring this process to all elementary schools in the five-parish region,according to Kelley. Currently the program is in place at Dolby, Oak Park, Barbe Elementary, College Oaks, J.D. Clifton and W.T. Henning elementary schools, and is expanding to Episcopal Day School and the new Lake Charles Charter Academy. John Stelly’s sponsorships from Paramount Automotive will bring the program to T.S. Cooley, Fairview and Merryville elementary school in the fall.

"The transformation in our students, teachers and community is remarkable,” said Ann Barilleaux, development director of the SWLA Alliance Foundation. "Momentum is growing.”

For information on how to contribute, contact Barilleaux at or call 433-3632.

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