DINGMANS FERRY - Encouraging others to make good choices is the goal for a team of students at Dingman Delaware Elementary School.

Four students from each grade have been selected to be on the Lighthouse Team, which will spearhead the Leader in Me program, that Joy Sweller a reading specialist called a “valued based program” that allows every child to become a “leader in their own respect.”

Both members of the Lighthouse Team and the faculty have learned about the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, that aims to help children develop character and a strong work ethic, said Sweller.

According to the Leader in Me website, the program is a “school transformation process” that teaches students “21st century leadership and life skills” while also creating a “culture of student empowerment” that is “based on the idea that every child can be a leader.”

Through the program, Superintendent Dr. John Bell said elementary students learn “valuable habits.” He decided to bring the program to the school now, because it is a “high-performing district” and programs are continuously being sought to “take us to the next level.”

This was the time for the program, Bell said because more than 250 staff members have been trained and the seventh-grade students have taken on the program. All seventh-grade students learn about the program and once in the 9th-grade, students receive a review in a new course called Freshman Seminar. And so, the program being taught to the elementary now, he said seemed logical as it was a way to teach leadership skills and learn about personal responsibility.

Student empowerment, Principal Victoria McNeely said is important because it inspires students to become leaders. Speaking with the students about leadership, she said has helped them understand what it means to be a leader, because they see how their behavior reflects their actions.

Since the start of the program earlier this year, McNeely has already seen a change in the students’ thinking, which she believes is the result of students realizing they have the power to change the culture of their school.

The team will work with other students in the school to embrace the seven habits, which were developed by Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Each habit has a focus that the students learn about in a guidance class.

Guidance Teacher Kathy VanWie said the students have responded well to the program, as they understand the material and are integrating the lessons into their lives. The skills, VanWie said need to be taught to the students now, so they can connect them to their lives as they have responsibilities. By applying the lessons to their academics, it allows the students to take “control of their lives.” Because of their academic responsibilities, VanWie noted that the hope is that, they will develop an “internal drive to succeed.”

By learning the habits early on, Sweller said it can become a “natural habit” for the students, as they grow and the lessons will be applied to the rest of their lives.

McNeely said the program will become a “way of life” and she hopes there will be a home and community connection. Sweller feels it is important, she said, that the community be involved because the benefits of the program will be for everyone.

So far, students have completed a few projects in the school, and Sweller said there was a good turnout at a parent night. Students gave a presentation on the different habits, which parents were very attentive to. From that community program, Sweller received positive feedback that people feel the program is something needed in the community.

Eventually, Sweller said the idea is that student led leadership roles will be established in the schools. Such jobs include greeters and others being cafeteria monitors. But, the roles will change as the students volunteer to participate. Through the projects, it is a chance to focus on each child’s strengths and they will suggest other roles they can participate in.

Plans are in the works for future projects, but there will be a school leadership day at the end of May, which the community is invited to. One of the student led projects being considered, is a garden and others are ideas to enhance the school with inspirational quotes.

Sweller said the upperclassmen have taken to the program and are helping the younger students as the program evolves.

It is a two-year process to get the Leader in Me program going, and Dingman-Delaware Elementary and the Primary Schools are the pilots for the district. So far, McNeely said everything has been good, but it is a “work in progress.”

Several members of the Lighthouse Team each agreed that a key to their mission is helping others make good choices. By being a member of the Lighthouse Team, a third-grade student Dominic Colonna hopes to help make the “community grow bigger” and become “a better place” that does not have trash on the roads, he said.  

Also a third-grade student, Amber Blas said she decided to participate because she likes making good choices. From the program, she hopes people will learn the seven habits.

A fifth-grade student, Nicole Sternberg said she hopes to make “this school a better place.” Sternberg enjoys helping people and through future activities, it will allow people to “do better things.” So far, the projects have been “fun” as the students are working to help their school she said.

Natalie Smith, a fourth-grade student said she feels it is an “honor” to be on the Lighthouse Team, because both faculty and other students are supportive of the team’s efforts.

Sweller said the students on the team were chosen by faculty, because of their character and their teachers see a “light shining inside of these kids.”

A third-grade student, Mia Thompson said she is happy to be on the Lighthouse Team because it is an important role, because other students will learn about the need for good leaders.

Naomi Bacura, a fourth-grade student said she wanted to participate because she loves to help people and doesn’t want to see anyone upset.

A fourth-grade student, Aiden Black decided to be on the team he said, because he wanted to help other students become leaders. Black was surprised to be chosen, because he didn’t realize he was seen as a leader.  Black said he is excited because it is an opportunity to help others realize they too, can be leaders.

If the students make a garden, a fourth-grade student Maddy Oyer said she hopes the vegetables can go to area food pantries or money earned from a farm stand, will support the pantries. Oyer said she decided to participate because she likes when students behave and she enjoys seeing others who are happy.

There are times, Sweller said, students don’t see themselves as leaders and through this program, they will realize their strengths, but also learn “how to shine.”

For more information about the Leader in Me program visit http://www.theleaderinme.org/.