People usually think of leaders as the people in the public eye, delivering speeches and directing teams of people to accomplish a task. But Westgate Elementary School’s “Leader in Me” approach to learning cultivates and develops leadership qualities in all of its students, even those that prefer not to be in the spotlight.
On Thursday, March 27, students and community members piled into the Edmonds school’s gym for a Leadership Day assembly in celebration of Westgate’s “Leader in Me” philosophy, which began with teacher and staff training last September. Students used their leadership skills to plan and direct the assembly, and all students were involved in some aspect of setting it up.
“Anytime students can take ownership and demonstrate leadership, it’s a positive thing,” said Interim Principal Susan Lathrop following the presentation. “We have leaders both in front of and behind the scenes.”
After a flag ceremony by Girl and Boy Scouts and a welcome speech by Lathrop, the program began with the school’s first graders lining up on the stage and singing a song called “Give It Your Best,” highlighting the importance of making your best effort.
“Give it your best, don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do it,” they sang. “You’ve got so much you can offer the world.”
Students from all grades then took the stage to share the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” from the Stephen Covey book of the same name, that have been integrated into the school’s curriculum and culture to create an atmosphere conducive to cultivating leaders. The habits are: be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first (work before play), think win-win (everyone can win), seek first to understand then to be understood, synergize and “sharpen the saw.” Each grade presented one habit.
“Balance is best, I take care of my brain, body and soul,” a group of sixth graders presenting the seventh and final step said.
“I listen to others without interrupting,” a group of fifth graders said of the sixth habit. “I listen with my ears, my eyes and my heart.”
Next, students from all grades shared their leadership vocabulary. They showed how using words like discipline, self-confident, initiative, trust and commit will help them “celebrate and empower the leader” in all of them.
Becoming a leadership school was possible for Westgate due to a $40,000 grant by the I Am A Leader Foundation, sponsored by the Panda Restaurant Group’s charitable foundation. To thank the foundation, Westgate had a poster made that says “Thank you for helping us LEAD!” with “LEAD!” spelled out in a photograph of students clumped together to form the letters and presented it to Kent Chen, manager of a local Panda Express restaurant.
“Understanding the seven habits helped me become a better manager and person,” said Chen after the presentation. “We want to pass on what we know as adults and to help the kids by getting them started with these habits while they are young.”
Three Westgate ASB representatives explained why becoming a leadership school was important to them. All three mentioned that the courage and self-confidence cultivated by a leadership school are important when standing up to bullies. Lathrop was surprised to hear this because there are not many bullying cases reported to staff members at the school, but acknowledged this impact as a positive one.
“If only one student is being bullied, it is a problem,” she said. “Hopefully, students will now get the confidence to self-correct any bullying that we don’t know about and also bring it to our attention.”
The assembly closed with one more song performed by the entire student body, written by the students and set to the tune of Katy Perry’s “Roar” (and with acknowledgment to the school’s mascot, the Cougars.)
“We’ve got the eye of the cougar, a leader, and you’re gonna see us lea-ea-ea-ea-ea-ea-ea-ead,” they sang.
— Story and photo by Natalie Covate