Muscatine school promotes leadership skills

Kindergarten students at Saints Mary and Mathias Catholic School in Muscatine color an image of a character from the storybook “The 7 Habits of Happy Kids” by Sean Covey.

By Celine Klosterman

MUSCATINE – Beginning this year, Saints Mary & Mathias Catholic School is trying to get students to “think win-win,” “be proactive” and “synergize.” 

Those suggestions, along with others listed in Stephen R. Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” are working their way into child-friendly lessons for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The effort is part of “The Leader in Me” program offered through Muscatine Connected, an organization that works to improve the community through education and information.

Principal Ann Gomez and Jessica Ingstad, enrichment and resources teacher, hope the program will help students develop leadership skills and unite students in different grades through a common curriculum.

Ingstad is introducing one of the seven habits each month by using the storybook “The 7 Habits of Happy Kids” by Sean Covey.  In the book’s seven stories, characters learn lessons illustrating each of the seven habits: be proactive; put first things first; think win-win; seek first to understand, then to be understood; synergize; and sharpen the saw. The first tale follows a bored squirrel who initially looks to his friends to entertain him, but eventually realizes he must be proactive and create his own fun. Other characters show how people must work together — “synergize” —  or keep themselves healthy and their lives in balance —“sharpen the saw.”


After introducing the program throughout this school year, Ingstad and Gomez hope teachers will work the seven concepts into lesson plans. For example, teachers overseeing group projects could stress the idea of “synergy” and the need for all students’ creativity and talents. Or, “if two students are having an issue, I could ask, ‘What can you do to be proactive?’” Ingstad said. “They’d know what that means.”

Gomez also envisions holding weekly assemblies focusing on one of the seven habits and promoting the habits through posters.

Gomez heard about “The Leader in Me” last year from a parent. “We thought this would go really well with our curriculum and enrichment program,” the principal said.  Saints Mary and Mathias teachers already have promoted qualities such as responsibility, planning, teamwork and respect. But the new program takes the efforts of faculty and administrators school-wide and offers all grades a common vocabulary, she added.

Around the same time Gomez received the parent’s suggestion, Muscatine Connected happened to be applying for a grant to implement the program in local schools. So this summer, she and Ingstad attended training workshops on the program.

“The Leader in Me” originated in Raleigh, N.C., at A.B. Combs Elementary, a magnet school that in 1999 was suffering from low student performance and enrollment. So Principal Muriel Summers suggested using the seven habits to create a leadership development model that would increase individual students’ accountability. With help from FranklinCovey, which offers management training, the school began providing annual leadership training for faculty.

Because of the program, the percentage of students at A.B. Combs who perform at or above grade level went from 67 percent to 97 percent in six years, according to Summers. Children also have more stake in the school’s operation; they’ve taken on duties such as giving visitors tours and notifying a staffer of maintenance needs.

Ingstad hopes the program inspires a similar sense of responsibility among children at Saints Mary and Mathias. “Students will know they can change things for the betterment of their whole school.”

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