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Thematic Programs Help Students Develop Leadership Skills

The ability to lead is a sought after quality that can make any student an attractive candidate for college recruiters or job creators, as leaders are individuals who recognize the value of teamwork and understand the importance of personal accountability. In Aiken County Public Schools, these are also some of the desired attributes that a premier student should aspire to.

That’s why Chukker Creek Elementary Principal Amy Gregory wanted to make sure her faculty, staff and students didn’t view implementation of the popular evidence-based school improvement model Leader in Me as just another program – her prompt was to instead see the initiative as an opportunity to improve the school’s collective mindset and future outlook. Out of those early conversations developed a new school motto: "LearnLeadSucceed."

“Our ultimate goal is that students leaving Chukker Creek Elementary will have the base of skills and knowledge to be successful in the career path they choose, and be able to contribute to the world around them,” said Gregory. “Students bring to the table different talents and interests, but leadership qualities are things all students can learn and benefit from.”  

The seven habits associated with the Leader in Me mindset include – Be Proactive, Begin With the End in Mind, Put First Things First, Think Win-Win, Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood, Synergize and Sharpen the Saw. Gregory said that foundation has allowed Chukker Creek Elementary teachers and students to set goals and achieve them together. 

“Living the seven habits helps our students showcase their talents while contributing to the overall well-being of their classrooms, school and homes,” said Gregory. 

Leader in Me also encourages students to grow as service-focused individuals.

“Their goals are not only academic but personal as well,” said Gregory. “Our students are having conversations about how to improve our school and their role in that improvement process.”

The Leader in Me model is also being implemented at Busbee Elementary in Wagener and Hammond Hill Elementary in North Augusta.

“Leader in Me is much more than a program. It is about equipping students with the skills they will need to be successful in the 21st century,” said Eric Jeffcoat, principal of Hammond Hill. “Our students are not just future leaders, they are leaders today at school, home, and in their communities.”

The 2019-20 school year will mark the third year of Leader in Me implementation at Hammond Hill Elementary. The first year focused on launching the leadership initiative and creating school culture. The focus this year has been aligning academics by teaching faculty and students how to set, monitor, and achieve personal as well as academic goals.

“Next year the focus will be empowering instruction by building trusting relationships, activating student-led learning, and engaging in planning and reflection in order for students to lead their own learning and engage in higher-order thinking,” said Jeffcoat. “At school and in the workplace we are looking for people with 21st century skills. We want students and employees who can be organized, get along with others, and solve problems.” 

“Students acquiring leadership skills across settings enables them to be prepared to succeed in a global society,” said Julie Revelle, Aiken County Public Schools Executive Director of Elementary Schools.

Leadership development is hardly relegated to elementary education in Aiken County Public Schools. At Wagener-Salley High School in Wagener, in fact, the school is Aiken County’s Academy of Leadership and Military Science. The school’s strong JROTC War Eagle Battalion and agricultural education program provide students with many opportunities to grow as leaders.

“I’m excited about the continued implementation of our thematic program,” said Wagener-Salley High School Principal Chris Earl. “Our Academy of Leadership and Military Science is unique not only in name, but also in the opportunities we are planning to offer our students in the future. Our program has already had a positive impact on our students and we look forward to expanding opportunities in the future for our students to become future community leaders.”

The focus on leadership for students also asks them to stretch themselves to meet and serve others on campus and in the greater Wagener community. These opportunities include a “Chunk the Junk” initiative in partnership with Palmetto Pride to reduce community litter, and a toddler room where Teacher Cadets read to children in the community. Community members may also receive services from the school’s cosmetology department three days each week. Additionally, student members of the Future Farmers of America provide assistance for local businesses and WSHS Teacher Cadets mentor area students.

“Our thematic program gives our school’s leadership team, faculty, and staff members a focus on how to build our students’ leadership capacity” Earl added. “Students are being provided more opportunities to be a part of extracurricular activities, and they are also being provided with new opportunities to engage in service learning activities throughout our community.”     

For information on submitting a transfer application to an Aiken County Public Schools, visit acpsd.net. On the navigation bar hover over “I AM …” and then select “A Parent/Guardian”. Scroll down and select “School Choice” on the left hand side of the page. District schools can also provide parents with this information.