Fifth Street school a lighthouse for leadership


JASPER — Fifth Street Elementary staff members cheered via Zoom last week when Principal Ryan Erny announced that the school earned Lighthouse Certification with the Leader in Me program.

The journey to lighthouse status — the highest recognition in the program — began in 2015 when former principal Leah Jessee introduced Leader In Me to the school. The evidence-based program is through FranklinCovey Education and is based on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People — 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. Schools in the program build a culture centered around the seven habits that focuses on developing leadership skills and soft skills in all students.

“We’re really focusing on teaching the whole student,” Erny said.

From day one, Fifth Street staff planned to become a lighthouse school. The first couple years, though, were dedicated to building leadership programs within the school. As a Leader in Me School, Fifth Street developed staff and student leadership teams to head up the process. One of the programs involves students in all three grades — kindergarten, first and second — applying for various jobs around the school and going through an interview process to earn the spot. Each job is named after a professional career the students could pursue. Restaurant managers, for example, help out in the cafeteria, and news broadcasters deliver the morning announcements.

“We have kindergartners reading [announcements] in front of 400 of their peers,” Erny said.

In addition to the programs, Fifth Street integrated Leader in Me into hallway decorations around the school, and teachers use the program’s vocabulary when discussing behavior within their classrooms.

When the lighthouse status review panel from FranklinCovey Education visited the school on March 13, Erny said, members of the student leadership team led the visitors on a tour of the school. They looked at everything. They took note of the hallway decorations — which at the time included bulletin boards about women leaders in honor of Women’s History Month — and checked out the Amygdala Stations throughout the school where students and staff can go during the day to take a few minutes to decompress. The students also showed off their journals where they track their leadership goals and school job applications.

“We were able to showcase some of those things that are unique to Fifth Street,” Erny said.

The review team also poured over Fifth Street’s evidence reports that track the school’s progress in the program and interviewed students, staff and parents.

It took about a month to review the application and supplemental materials — which included students’ leadership journals where they keep track of their leadership goals — and make a final decision. Finally, last week, Erny received the call with the good news. When he shared the news with his staff at the Thursday Zoom staff meeting, everyone cheered.

“It was a team effort,” Erny said. “That’s part of what made me so proud.”

Fifth Street is now one of five lighthouse schools in the state and about 600 such schools worldwide. According to the Leader in Me website, thousands of schools worldwide participate in the program.

Tenth Street Elementary implemented the Leader in Me in the 2018-19 school year, and Fifth Street’s Lighthouse Certification will carry to Jasper Elementary this fall when Fifth and Tenth Street unite in the new school near Jasper Middle School. Already, the staffs of the two schools are working on new leadership programs they can implement when the schools merge, including a study buddies program that pairs fifth-graders with students in the primary grades.

“The possibilities are really endless at this point,” Erny said. “We’re just excited to get out there and live in that building for a little while to really see what we want to do.”

Learn more about Leader In Me here.

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