“These are our enrichment programs,” declared Tony Velazquez, proudly gesturing toward a decorated wall in his school. If the fourth grader had any initial jitters, they didn’t show as he and over a dozen other students guided teachers through the halls of PS 110.
On Friday, March 1st, the Monitor School invited educators from around the world to tour its classes and programs. The visit served as part of a larger two-day symposium in which teachers explored Brooklyn and Staten Island schools implementing “The Leader in Me,” an educational model designed to uncover and develop leadership qualities in students. The three-year “transformative” process is based on Stephen Covey’s classic “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”
Principal Anna Cano Amato, who has helmed PS 110 for nearly thirty years, was first introduced to the program at a principals’ conference last spring. After watching an impressive presentation by FranklinCovey, a company that markets systems based on Covey’s research, she came back to her school bursting with excitement. “I’ve always been interested in academic growth,” Amato explained. “But I wanted something deeper, the idea that every child could develop into a leader by themselves, and that we had to foster that in everyone.”
After successfully applying for a grant from The Leader in Me Foundation, the school’s faculty was trained in principles that “allow people to realize their potential,” and set out to create “a culture of student empowerment.” The lessons come in various forms, including discussions with the students and role-playing. Teachers also integrate leadership language into their curriculum, instructing kids how to be “pro-active” and begin “with something in mind.” The central goal is to achieve Lighthouse Status, wherein the school’s improvements are recognized and celebrated with its community during a Leadership Day.
Early that Friday afternoon, student greeters escorted visiting teachers to the auditorium, where the PS 110 Chorus, led by the head of the music program, Barbara Isaakssen, performed songs about the 7 Habits and “Respect for All Week.” Shortly afterwards, students practiced their newly formed leadership skills by showcasing classes and enrichment programs in session as well as work created during art residences. The teachers were divided into three groups, each led by two tour guides, two photographers and roughly two greeters. All the students who participated in the tour applied for their positions, and took two weeks to prepare for their roles.
“Over 70 students applied for these jobs,” Amato revealed, emphasizing their sense of initiative. “After they were chosen, we asked them what they thought their duties were, and they were able to verbalize their roles. It wasn’t us telling them what to do; they all figured out how to be leaders by themselves.”
During the tour, visitors saw at least 15 “clusters,” composed of mixed grades that choose and study topics in 8-week cycles. The group of teachers attended to by Amato herself was able to observe cluster programs teaching space exploration, the guitar and Italian. Other special programs on view included Trout Unlimited, in which fourth and fifth graders conserve coldwater fisheries and watersheds, as well as the school’s Dual Language classes, where lessons are taught in both English and French.
After the tour, a panel of student representatives spoke about the opportunities to be leaders in both creativity and learning, many reading from speeches they had written themselves. Visitors then participated in a Q&A with the Lighthouse Team, the committee of teachers and administrators that sets the goals of the Leader in Me program. Lighthouse members talked about building a social base through the commonality of “leadership” language, and were proud to note their students’ growing enthusiasm for the program. They also stressed the importance of the arts in enabling children to find their voice and thus potential as a leader.
“We had one young man who was really struggling,” said Rolando Garcia, a second grade teacher and Lighthouse Chair. “Then he auditioned for an upcoming school production of Much Ado About Nothing, and he blew everybody’s socks off. And since then he’s improved academically. Schools put such an emphasis on test scores, but it’s also about growing the child’s heart, and we often find that creativity gives them that chance.”