Transforming Tomorrow's Leaders
by Kati O'Hare
Sep 02, 2012 | 1810 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print

"Great leaders aren't born, they are made." - Vince Lombardi



OLATHE – Reading, writing and arithmetic are important for success, but schools across the country are realizing that student are missing a critical component of greatness – skills like critical thinking, problem solving and goal setting.

And so the Montrose County School District is incorporating a curriculum-based program into its middle schools – with Olathe Elementary sixth-graders piloting the program this year – that aims to create great leaders by teaching them these relevant skills for success.

The Leadership and Critical Thinking curriculum is unique, tested and proven, says the school district, and can help educators teach more than 20 important life skills that all young people need.

The curriculum is being introduced into Olathe's Citizenship Exploratory class, available to sixth-graders, as a component of Overcoming Obstacles Program developed by the Community for Education Foundation.

Districts that have incorporated the curriculum into their elementary and high schools report having seen attendance go up, bullying decrease and an overall better school atmosphere, with students better prepared for the real world after learning to take responsibility for their success, according to the foundation.

A partnership between the school district, Montrose Community Foundation, Montrose Recreation District, the Town of Olathe,  the Montrose County Library District and Montrose county and city was formed last year, to apply for a 100 Best Communities grant for the project, and were rewarded with a $2,500 special commitment to the community's youth. Instead of dividing the money among the different entities, the group decided to continue their partnership in an effort to make a greater impact, said Melanie Hall, director of MCF.

The library district purchased the curriculum, and the grant money is being used to pay former Olathe graduate and current student teacher Jaime Goza to teach the class two days a week, during his free hours.

Club 6S, as the course called, resembles the Leadership Montrose Program designed for adults to increase their knowledge and interest for leadership in the community, said MRD Executive Director Ken Sherbenou.

"Club 6S will be a great way for current leaders to connect with future leaders," he said.

The school district took the one-year lesson plans created by the Community for Education Foundation, and narrowed it down to a seven week program for the Olathe class, Hall said.

Olathe students are working on confidence-building in these first couple of weeks of school.

Sherbenou will be one of several guest speakers, talking to the class about personal challenges and success, he said.

"I think the guest speakers will lend some real-work relevance to the class because it won't just be a teacher talking to them, but possibility their future boss," Goza said.

The students will go on to learn about decision-making: how to weigh options and consequences; setting goals by learning to define and then work toward them; and problem-solving, learning to define problems and identify options, as well as consider the pros and cons of those options, with an emphasis on finding solutions.

Hall reports that local employers identified problem-solving as lacking in today's workforce.

Student also will learn how to resolve conflicts through understanding and identifying emotions, and learning to control those emotions, communicating effectively and then work toward a win-win solution. Looking to the future, they will learn how to adapt to change, stay focused, get along and follow rules – and how to present themselves.

"I really like the part about recognizing strengths and weaknesses, because that really goes a long way," Goza said. "The first day of class, we had them list their strengths,” he added. It’s “easy to know what you are good at, but recognizing your weaknesses is harder.

But it is almost more important," he said.

Hall said she hopes that future grant money will allow the district to expand the program, and that the group again is once again in the running for this year's 100 Best Communities, but that the winners not been announced. She's hoping that this year's sixth-graders will be the first to be in the future eighth-grade Club 6S. There also will be future efforts to implement the program in the district's high schools, as more funding becomes available.

"I think it is very worth our time to invest in the youth of our community," Hall said. "It's a front-end investment in tomorrow's leaders. Youth today are faced with a lot of challenges, and if we can equip them with the skills that enable them to go down a path of success, it is time and money well spent."

Kati O'Hare at kohare@watchnewspapers.com

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