Tracey DeBuff

Tracey DeBuff

A program that started at one school in the Avondale Elementary School District has now been implemented in four schools, each with the goal to grow each learner as a leader. 

Wildflower Accelerated Academy was the first school to welcome the Leader in Me program in fall 2021. Leader in Me is a whole-school improvement process based on the idea that everyone can be a leader. 

Katelyn Orloski, Wildflower principal, said the program’s evidence-based approach empowers students with the leadership and life skills they need to thrive in the 21st century. 

“We take those seven habits of highly effective people and empower our students with them and give them opportunities and situations that they can use in their everyday life,” Orloski said. “It’s a great program. It’s also what I would call a social-emotional curriculum because of the skills that it empowers our students to have.”

Children in kindergarten through eighth grade have different lessons through the Leader in Me program. For instance, Orloski explained that kindergartners participated in a recent lesson that had the kids look in a mirror and use words to describe that experience. 

As for the seventh and eighth graders, their lesson was differentiating between conversations that should be had in person and which conversations should be had through email or text. 

“It’s a really great supplemental program for our students to learn the seven habits and be leaders and be engaged in their learning and in a really good culture environment,” Orloski added. 

Through the program, students are taught and practice the seven habits of highly effective people, which stem from Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” The habits are be proactive; begin with the end in mind; put first things first; think win-win; seek first to understand, then to be understood; synergize; sharpen the saw; and how to enact habits at home. 

When first establishing the program within the school, Orloski said the focus was on the seven habits and leadership. 

“The basics last year was giving our kids the leadership roles and empowering them,” Orloski said. “It’s really the belief that every child has genius, and we want to show that and we want to showcase our students by giving them the skills and finding what they excel in and what they love.” 

This school year, the focus has transitioned to academics and using the same skills to set goals centered around academic success. 

“Coming off of the COVID year, and really understanding that a lot of schools are trying to recoup the learning gaps that we had, this was such a perfect parallel year with Leader in Me, where we’re now focusing on the academic piece,” said Tracey DeBuff, assistant principal.

“Students would review their grades, they would review either their benchmark or assessment data, and then they would select some goals with their teacher for how they would grow between now and the end of the quarter or the next major assessment. It was really fun to have these students start to understand and develop on their own.”

Since the implementation of the program, Orloski said students and teachers have positively responded to it and even utilized the skills outside of the classroom. 

“It really is embraced by the culture of the school,” she said. “It’s just really good. It’s now extended where we have students who in their leadership role are helping our self-contained autism classroom, and they’re in there helping their students on their goals. So it’s amazing to see the connections that are forming because of the opportunity and how it’s really creating a culture of the whole person and showcasing that everyone has genius and we want our kids to be leaders.”

In addition to motivating students to succeed academically, Orloski said she’s seen an improvement in Wildflower students’ social-emotional development. 

“It unites everyone,” she said. “They realize that they’re on a team together, we have to achieve goals together, but we often have to work together and do our part to make sure Wildflower is the great place that it is. So it’s really giving them those tools. We know there’s a lot of outside factors influencing our students these days, but it allows us to give them the tools to help with that.”

Moving forward, Orloski said the next step will be to focus on getting families involved with the Leader in Me program. 

“That’s definitely a big goal for us next year in school, is engaging our families in this amazing program and making sure there’s aspects that they can be doing at home,” she said. “And being an environment where every voice is heard, focused on the potential of our students, of our families, and empowering everyone to come together through this program.” 

To learn more about Wildflower Accelerated Academy or the Leader in Me program, visit chooseaesd.org.