In a second-grade classroom at Coosa Elementary School, students are practicing something other than math or vocabulary: They're greeting each other by name in a clear voice, maintaining eye contact and shaking hands.
It's part of the school's new focus on teaching children leadership skills -- the ones in the popular book "7 Habits of Highly Effective People."
The school began the program this school year, and staff has noticed a change in students.
When the children enter the building in the morning, they don't drag their feet and hang their heads. They look into each other eyes, smile and say, "Good morning," math coach Renee Glover said.
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"These are the sorts of life skills they need," Glover said.
HOW IT WORKS
Teachers say the program -- "The Leader in Me" -- is embedded in all they do with the students. Teachers look for opportunities to weave the habits into their lessons. Soon there will be wall murals to remind students of the lessons the program teaches.
Every morning, after school-wide announcements, classes hold a "morning meeting" that includes character education.
Each month, one of the seven habits is studied. They began with "be proactive," a month in which students were encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and emotions.Months that tackled "begin with the end in mind" and "put first things first" followed.
After a month of review, students began studying this month's theme: "Think win-win," which encourages them to think about what others want.
In Lisa Pope's second-grade class, that took the form of reading a short book about two boys who were friends turned enemies turned friends again.
The 7- and 8-year-olds then discussed how things are better when they are friendly to each other, rather than mean, and how they solve small spats with friends.
These daily conversations have started to have an effect, teachers say.
WHAT IT'S DONE
The program, which is in place in some form in about 1,000 schools nationwide, has cost about $10,000 so far, mostly in training costs, materials and consultants. Most of that has been paid with a Department of Defense grant given to the school because of its high percentage of military children. The three-year "Critical MASS" grant has also paid for math and science programs at the school.
The program takes three years for full results. According to the program's website, schools are consistently reporting decreases in disciplinary issues and increases in students' self-confidence, teamwork, initiative, creativity, leadership and communication.
"This is not a flash in the pan," said principal Carmen Dillard. "This is a crock pot mentality. We want to let it simmer. It has to be something that comes from within."
Coosa Elementary staff said it's already working.
Here's one way they know: A parent recently told Dillard that something strange was going on at home. Her son was doing his homework before playing, telling her "first things first" -- the program's second habit.
That's not uncommon, Dillard said. Most days she, Glover and computer lab teacher Melissa Pender -- who all are on the school's "lighthouse" team that guides the implementation of the program -- hear the students use the language of the habits when they're on the playground.
That never happened with sporadic character education lessons the school had in the past, Glover said.
"We want to make sure we're doing everything we can to get them ready for their adult years," Dillard said. "It's the right thing to do."
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/IPBG_Rachel.