'Habits' Program Turns Around Charter School
The lessons of individual responsibility stressed at the Academy of Moore County charter school sometimes manifest themselves in unexpected ways.
Recently, a group of students had to report to their equivalent of the principal's office to settle an altercation between two of the children.
"A couple of students were having a disagreement, and four of them came to the office to discuss what happened," said School Leadership Facilitator Gail Cunningham. "As they spoke, we could tell they were beginning to realize they should take personal responsibility for the conflict. One said, 'I did it.' Then the second one said, 'I did it.' One by one they saw the need to take responsibility for their actions."
This greater level of personal accountability, Cunningham said, has been the direct result of a new school paradigm based on the wildly popular book "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," by Stephen Covey. The Academy transitioned to a School of Leadership in September 2011, one of a number of schools nationally that have adopted the "Seven Habits" as a curriculum model.
The Academy of Moore County is a tuition-free, kindergarten-through-fifth-grade public elementary charter school that serves students from Moore County and across the state.
The school adopted the Habits program almost three years ago as a way of turning around its academic performance. By 2010, the school was struggling academically and in danger of losing its state charter.
Allyson Schoen, director of education at the school, said the staff "became convinced that this was the right direction for our school. It's the best thing we could've done. The students and faculty love it."
Staff members at the Academy say the school is now flourishing under the new guidelines.
"Making the change from a standard curriculum has absolutely proven to be the best thing we could have done," Schoen said. "Once they began to assume these responsibilities we saw the students grow with increased confidence in every aspect of their lives.
"Last year the program was more adult-led as we all learned the system and became more familiar with it. Now we are transitioning, and what we would ultimately like to see is students running the program. Students doing things such as overseeing the loading of buses and cars in the afternoon is something we hope to implement, all designed to increase their sense of personal responsibility and leadership."
Cunningham, who read Covey's book, saw it as a good fit for the school and advocated its use as a curriculum model, said she is pleased to know that her influence has made a difference.
"It makes me feel very happy to know that I had a part in developing something so good and so right for the students," she said. "The decision to implement the program required that we transfer increasing responsibility to the students beyond what we would normally do. I believe this has been a successful undertaking."
Officials also stress the need to carry the guidelines of the Seven Habits beyond the school campus and into the home and the community. Students seem to understand that message and respond accordingly.
"We take the 'Habits' home," said third-grader Kaleb Nicholson. "My favorite is the fifth one, 'Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.' We keep them with us to be better leaders."
Second-grader Ashlyn Shively likes the sixth and third Habits, "Synergize" and "Put First Things First," while third-grader Brianna Deaubler prefers "Think Win-Win" along with the "First Things First" Habit.
"When we go to class the teachers talk about all seven, and each day we take a step to become better and better leaders," Brianna said.
The first three Habits, "Be Proactive," "Begin With the End in Mind" and "Put First Things First," involve moving from dependence to independence, while the next three, "Think Win-Win," "Seek First to Understand and Then Be Understood" and "Synergize," focus on working with others. Habit number seven, "Sharpen the Saw," involves "self-rejuvenation," i.e., mental, physical and spiritual renewal. Cunningham said the students utilize the Seven Habits "in various ways."
"These guidelines are used in over 1,000 schools both nationally and internationally," she said. "Our elementary age students are being taught the very same habits for living that many Fortune 500 companies teach their employees. I consider this to be a most impressive fact."
Ashlyn's mother, Lynn Shively, said the program has worked for her daughters both in school and at home. Her daughter Paige is a fourth-grader at the Academy.
"The kids work together a lot more than they did, and they talk about Habits such as 'Synergy' and 'Put First Things First' regularly," Shively said. "When beginning a project they have the end in mind. Their sense of accomplishment is better refined than before."
Some Moore County public schools utilize the Seven Habits as a part of their curriculum as well.
"It's great for trying to readjust behaviors, and it gives kids some important life lessons in helping them to become more effective as human beings," said Southern Middle School Principal Herb Hanson. "A lot of good can come from employing the 'Seven Habits.'"
Contact John Lentz at (910) 693-2479 or email@example.com.
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