'Leader In Me' making positive impact at local middle schools
Drawing on Covey's "Seven Habits," the program seeks to empower students and reduce bullying through teaching them 21st century leadership and life skills.

The area's other Leader In Me schools include Ballard County, Crittenden County, Dawson Springs, Fulton County, Hickman County, Livingston County, Mayfield, McLean County and Paducah middle schools.

Though Leader In Me is still relatively new, it's rooted in research that's been making the rounds of the business community for decades. In 1976, Covey began pouring through hundreds of books, articles and biographies of respected individuals in America's history to find common traits and behaviors that led to their success. He then wrote "Seven Habits," which has sold more than 15 million copies worldwide.

When teachers at the 10 schools started Leader In Me training this summer, it was enthusiastically received. The real test began when the students returned from summer vacation. Not yet a year into the program, the difference is evident. Even the kids will tell you so.

"This is the first year they're doing it. I like being a part of it, and I like seeing other students progress," said Andriah Hawthorne, a seventh grader at Paducah Middle. She's one of 13 students who were nominated by teachers to be on the "Lighthouse Team," which is the school's student leadership group.

Each of the 10 area Leader In Me schools has a Lighthouse Team of students that meets at least monthly, sometimes weekly, to discuss student issues and plan projects that either improve their communities or improve school culture.

For example, this month Fulton Independent's Lighthouse Team is working with the city to expand its animal shelter. Paducah's team put together Valentine's Day goodie bags for every administrator, teacher and staff member at the school - each and every grown-up - to show appreciation for the work they do. They've also been putting on monthly luncheons to honor the school's students of the month.

"Instead of the teachers doing all the work at every event, the kids take responsibility for setting it up and designing things," said Timothy Watkins, a Paducah Middle eighth grader and Lighthouse member. "We take over."

"It is more work," Hawthorne said.

"But it's fun," Watkins continued. "We enjoy it."

Paducah Middle's Lighthouse Team members said they've definitely seen changes in their school culture.

"We've seen a difference," said sixth grader Joseph Reeves. "Like at the beginning of the year there were a lot of behavior problems, but then as school went on it got better. We really want to change attitudes."

Reeves' fellow Lighthouse member and sixth grader Gabby Copeland agreed. There's still room for improvement, she said, but students are learning to be more respectful without the attitude. It's also helped even the shyest kids find a voice.

"I think it encourages others who don't like to speak in front of people to let them have a say in things," Copeland said. "That's why I think Leader In Me helps kids, because they get to have this program that says it's OK to speak up."
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