In the Byron-Bergen School District, students aren't just learning how to read, write and solve math problems. They're also being taught the basic skills of leadership.
"We want them to be confident individuals," said Brian Meister, the elementary school principal. "We want them to be self-sufficient individuals. We want them to be able to make good choices consistently."
The leadership course is based on Stephen R. Covey's acclaimed "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." Covey's company has developed "The Leader in Me," a program to teach students the seven habits in a format they can grasp.
In Byron-Bergen, the curriculum is part of a strategy to educate children in a well-rounded fashion. Yes, they learn academics, but they're also exposed to the arts and good citizenship.
At the Thursday evening board meeting (unusually packed with parents), a group of third-graders sang songs, recited their leadership pledge and showed off their leadership pictures.
"It's so important not to just teach them academics, but to teach them to be good citizens," Superintendent Casey Kosiorek said. "We can all agree that if one of these find young individuals moves next door to us, we want them to be good people and we also want them to be intelligent."
The seven habits:
Habit 1: Be Proactive • You’re in Charge
Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind • Have a Plan
Habit 3: Put First Things First • Work First, Then Play
Habit 4: Think Win-Win • Everyone Can Win
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood • Listen Before You Talk
Habit 6: Synergize • Together Is Better
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw • Balance Feels Best
Meister said faculty and staff are really proud at how well students are responding to the course. He said it's rewarding to hear students talk about solving conflicts with a "win-win" attitude.
It's not easy, he said, for a child in elementary school to "seek first to understand," and put themselves in the shoes of the other person before trying to meet their own needs. But he said in fact, they're seeing child trying to learn to take exactly that approach.
During the school board meeting, Kosiorek noted a recent study that showed the vast majority of new patents are filed in the United States, not China. The iPad, he noted, was invented in this country, not overseas. He said the next generation of entrepreneurs will come out of today's schools, and it's Byron-Bergen's job to prepare the next generation of business leaders.
Meister agreed and said that as students move on from elementary school, into high school and then into college or careers they will be the self-confident individuals who are followed by their peers.
"We really believe here at Byron-Bergen that it’s not only our job to teach kids the academics, but also to make sure sure we provide the leaders of tomorrow," Meister said.