“It’s all about building relationships with one another,” says Cedar Ridge Elementary STEM teacher, Interventionist, and Leader in Me Coordinator Lorie Craig. “I had a student that was in my ‘family’ 2 years ago - she’s now in 7th grade, and still reaches out to me through email every once in a while.”
It all started with a book. “The Leader in Me,” by Stephen Covey, inspired teachers and administrators at Cedar Ridge Elementary to transform their learning culture - so five years ago, after board approval, they started their journey in Leader in Me. Leader in Me is a learning process that empowers students with the leadership and life skills they need to thrive in the 21st century. This process includes student participation in goal setting, leadership roles, student-led conferences, and more. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is also implemented daily throughout classrooms. Cedar Ridge Elementary is one of thousands of schools in over 80 countries worldwide that have implemented the Leader in Me process. Within Leader in Me, there is the Student Lighthouse Team. The Student Lighthouse Team is comprised of second through fifth grade students who go through an application and interview process before being selected. These students have presented to the Arkansas School Boards Association, volunteered their time at the Humane Society of Independence County, donated food, washed teacher’s vehicles for Teacher Appreciation Week, and more. "The Leader in Me Program has built a leadership environment for the Cedar Ridge Elementary students," says Elementary Principal Kathy Magness. "Our students are able to take more ownership for their own learning and behaviors. We see students develop into leaders in and out of the classroom so they are successful today and build skills for success tomorrow."
While visiting a Leader in Me school a few years prior, (Lorie) Craig and Assistant Principal Shawn Craig brainstormed ways to create “family units” within the elementary school, thus proposing Family Fridays. For 30 minutes every Friday morning, students meet with their School Family, which consists of one teacher and several students from different grade levels. Families participate in a number of activities - having fun with finger painting, making meaningful contributions by picking up trash, and simply getting to know one another. “My favorite part of Family Friday is getting to know students at other grade levels and building relationships with them,” says 5th grade teacher Randa Edwards. “This really set in for me during a Parent Teacher Conference when one of my Kindergarten kiddos brought his parents by to see his Family Friday teacher.” Carol Woods, Elementary Gifted and Talented teacher, says “I enjoy getting to really know a small group of children. I also have enjoyed seeing how they interact together and develop a respect for each other. There is acceptance and care for each other - exhibited by my group each time I see them.” 5th grader, Maggie, says “I like family time because we get to know all our family members better. When we have family time I get to see how other people use the 7 habits.”
Walking into any classroom at Cedar Ridge Elementary, you can see Leader in Me, and the implementation of Family Fridays, at work - students are engaged and thriving. It’s not unusual to see students leading discussions, training high school teachers on Leader in Me, presenting to the Cedar Ridge Board of Education, or collaborating with students in other grade levels. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the elementary school was close to reaching Lighthouse Certification, a highly-regarded standard for schools that produce outstanding results in school and student outcomes. Students were also days away from presenting at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee in March of 2020 before a tornado hit the city. Right now, grades six through eight at Cedar Ridge High School are starting to implement Leader in Me by offering a Leader in Me elective for students. Cedar Ridge Elementary students are continuing to build on their successes this school year by simply believing - and proving - that everyone can be leader. It would not be successful without all the hard work from the teachers, staff members, administration, and the support from board members.