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Leadership is the 'operating system' at Mount Holly Elementary

Published Friday, March 30, 2019

Time is precious, especially when you consider the hours teachers and school administrators spend with students in elementary schools. After a handful of years, those students who were once carefree, coloring and learning the fundamentals of math and language find themselves on middle school campuses as preteens needing to sort out adolescence and all the problems that come with it.

In 2014 teachers and administrators at Mount Holly Elementary began taking steps to make the most of their time with young students. They began a process that would replace traditional school culture, be more student-focused, encourage leadership and place a high value on developing positive habits. The school began the Leader in Me program.

The change is easy to see these days when visitors step on the campus. Students offer greetings to passersby. What was once bare wall and hall space is saturated in student work. Smiles are visible on the faces of the students and staff members. When teachers from other schools come to Mount Holly Elementary, they take notes.

Thursday, Mount Holly Elementary hosted a yearly event designed specifically for showcasing all the school has accomplished and plans to achieve. The fourth annual Leadership Day, though just a small piece of being a Leader in Me school, provided an enormous opportunity for nearby schools, local businesses and community members.

Leader in Me (LIM) is a comprehensive school improvement model that empowers students with leadership and life skills they will need to thrive in the 21st century. The program is currently used at more than 4,400 schools around the globe. Of those schools, Mount Holly Elementary is among 433 recognized as a LIM Lighthouse School – a school that has shown “outstanding” results in school and student outcomes.

Principal Dr. Creighton Eddings describes the positive environment created by the LIM program as an "operating system."

“It is woven into everything we do – from academics to our environment and culture. It is the foundation that everything is built upon,” he said.

Students on nearly every area of the campus interacted with visitors during Thursday’s Leadership Day. They all had specific jobs, and most of those tasks were tied to the student’s individual strengths. Students gave school tours, presented information and held performances about leadership and the positive habits that make the core of the LIM program. 

“Leadership is not positional power,” Dr. Eddings said. “They are utilizing their strengths to showcase the things happening at the school.”

Among those students interacting with guests in a leadership role was 5th-grader Logan Casey. She was the emcee of the event, and it’s a role she holds often on the campus as she’s one of the more confident public speakers.

“The coolest thing about this program is that we get to show our talents and what we can do,” Logan said. “Most of the time, you are not afraid to do anything. You build your confidence as you do it.”

As she thought about the guests in her school on Thursday, Logan said she hopes they see why Mount Holly Elementary is a “true Leader in Me school.”

Logan isn’t just a student with a knack for public speaking. She’s a passionate believer in goal-setting and the positive habits encouraged by the program. She came to Mount Holly Elementary for third grade, and before that, she was at a school in another state where the learning experience was much different.

Logan believes students at Mount Holly Elementary, with the help of Leader in Me, are learning what they need to be successful adults.

“I think when they learn about the habits, they learn to do the right thing. I hope they learn to synergize and not leave anybody out of anything. I hope they always use the seven habits as they get older and have courage to be anything they want to be.”

Fourth grade teacher Wendy Schulz began teaching at Mount Holly in 2014 when the program began. She had a powerful message for educators and community members taking a tour of her class and meeting with her students.

“The greatest part for me has been seeing the change in our students,” she said. “I can see the change that has carried out of just my classroom to the next grade level.”

The Leader in Me program also places emphasis on influencing the community. Standing inside Ms. Schulz’s class, it’s easy to see how parents and any others visiting the school may be overwhelmed and impressed.

In every direction, in the form of flyers, student work and cute decorations, are visible reminders of positive leadership habits.

 “We want to enact a change within the community, and it has to start someplace. So, we’re starting it here,” she said.

Mount Holly Elementary is one of about 10 Leader in Me schools in the Lowcountry. It’s one of five Leader in Me Schools in Berkeley County School District and one of two Leader in Me Lighthouse BCSD schools. There are only 24 Leader in Me Lighthouse schools in South Carolina of the 84 currently utilizing the LIM program.

Brian Troutman