CLEARWATER - Students at Fuguitt Elementary won't be the only ones studying new concepts during the upcoming school year.
With help from a $100,000 grant, everyone from parents to teachers to plant operators at the Largo school will learn how to strengthen their characters through a program based on "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," the popular self-help book.
Fuguitt Elementary will start the upcoming school year as the only Tampa area recipient, and the first in Pinellas County, of the 2013 The Leader in Me Grant. The money provides new classroom materials and staff development training based on Stephen Covey's best-selling book. The five-year grant will help students identify personal goals and become motivated leaders at an early age, said Fuguitt Principal Kathi Bentley. That should translate into fewer disciplinary issues and greater academic performance, she said.
"What you're doing is developing a leader in every single student where they can take pride in something they're responsible for," Bentley said. "They might not all come out and go to college or all go into a career, but they will all come out being a leader in something, feeling confident, taking responsibility and building their self esteem."
The school has focused on character training for years, Bentley said. The Leader in Me program, which was developed by teachers who wanted to communicate the seven habits to their elementary students, goes beyond motivational posters hanging in the hallways, though. All staff at the school go through special training on how to adopt language used in the "7 Habits" system, such as the concepts of "seeking to understand" and "putting first things first," into their regular lessons for math or history. Students fill out journals with their personal goals, and everything from planners to T-shirts are emblazoned with character-affirming concepts.
"If a child's in school learning about character in a 30-minute lesson, they don't understand how to use those concepts in a fight on the playground," said June Kletzel, who's in charge of Florida programs for FranklinCovey. "With this, you actually see kids getting on the playground and resolving their own conflicts because they're embedded with that language everywhere at school. They'll say, 'I need to seek first to understand before being understood. I want a win-win, so let's talk it out and play with the ball together.' "
The grant, which is funded by the private I Am A Leader Foundation, will pay for the new materials that teach students, staff and their parents to be proactive and take charge of their actions, begin each task with an end goal in mind, prioritize and follow a daily schedule, resolve conflicts with classmates, listen to others' ideas and opinions and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The program has proven successful, Kletzel said. A 2012 Johns Hopkins University case study of how the model was used in elementary schools found that most students readily adopted the program concepts, leading to higher test performance.
Though it has only been in existence for about five years, about 1,400 schools throughout the world, 35 of which are in Florida, have signed on to The Leader In Me program, said Debra Lund, a spokeswoman for FranklinCovey.
"I don't know that there are any nay-sayers left," Bentley said.