Horry County Schools staff members are rebuilding school culture from the ground up to provide students with an arsenal of tools to not only enhance academic performance, but to give them their best shot at becoming successful, productive and compassionate citizens.
Training is under way at the cluster of five Myrtle Beach schools, which is piloting "The Leader in Me," an initiative based on the Stephen Covey book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," that fuses curriculum with leadership values. The program, which has been implemented in about 435 schools worldwide, is being embraced not only by educators, but by school staff and community members who are working hand in hand to pave a better way for area students.
"I think anybody would realize a noble goal of trying to influence the next generation," said Kevin Morris, supervisor at Pepper Geddings Recreation Center, who attended a training session Tuesday at Myrtle Beach Intermediate School. "We all have a responsibility to influence the upcoming generation and find out how we can make a difference."
The program is designed to give a whole new feeling to the learning process and teach students skills such as how to lead, prioritize, work with others, develop a work ethic and self-esteem, as well as caring and compassion for others, said Dottie Brown, HCS executive director for elementary schools and year-round education.
"It translates to all kids at different stages," Brown said. "They don't change the words or the language, or lessen the concept. They can get it at 5 years old."
At a recent Myrtle Beach City Council workshop, Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means said the program teaches principles that are no longer being taught at home, but even parents who are very involved with the schools see the benefits.
"It gets back to the basics," said Yvonne Dicks, a member of the School Improvement Council who attended the training and has three sons who attend Myrtle Beach schools. "I wanted to be on board as a parent and implement some of the same things at home. It makes me want to be a better parent, and if they get involved, every parent will have the tools to bring out the best in our children."
Myrtle Beach Intermediate held the daylong training that has already taken place at Myrtle Beach Primary and Elementary schools, and Myrtle Beach Middle and High schools will follow, Brown said. She said there also will be a three-day training session on the book's seven habits, then implementation training and coaching. Training is set throughout the first year of the program, which lasts three years, after which the program should be self-sustaining.
Brown said the idea for the program came from parents and community members who have had several meetings with HCS Superintendent Cindy Elsberry, and that school principals and staff have been on board from the very beginning.
"One of the dynamic things in the Myrtle Beach cluster is the commitment here," said Brown of the schools piloting the program. "They want to keep these five schools the best they can be."
The price tag for the Covey model is almost $307,000 for three years, and the school district will invest about $154,000. The remaining portion is expected to come from grants and community partners, and Elsberry said the district already has a firm commitment of $30,000 from the Myrtle Beach Education Foundation, as well as firm commitments from the Myrtle Beach City Council and Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc., although those amounts aren't yet known.
At Tuesday's training, Gary McGuey, senior educational consultant for Covey, emphasized to the group that modeling is key, because people "follow your footsteps much more than your advice." He said 90 percent of Fortune 100 companies train with Covey, which is not really a program but a process.
"I travel all around the country, and I can tell this group is engaged and passionate about their kids," said McGuey, a former educator. "They are all doing great things now. The program puts in a framework and is complementing what they're doing."
Excitement is high for teachers and community members who see the potential the program offers.
Fourth-grade teacher Judy Couch said she already had introduced some of the principles in her class. She said her students had won a contest by writing song lyrics about the seven habits, and that they were internalizing actions such as "show, not tell" and "work before play."
Angela Collins, who teaches gifted and talented math, said she hopes the program will help bridge some of the socioeconomic gaps at the schools. She said some students think they know what leadership means, but their idea of the concept is not always based on the intrinsic values of the Covey model. She said she wants to see students take their strengths and carry them back into the classroom.
Community participant Sue Ellen Wilson, who is youth librarian at Chapin Memorial Library, said she was happy to be invited to the training and is working on ideas for how the library can integrate the process.
"I think it's very exciting, and I'm just very optimistic about it," said Wilson, who said the library will be able to provide extra copies of Covey's books and can easily provide space for parent meetings. "I'm thinking of how we can use [the program] within this facility with the students of those schools. Although I don't see children on a continuous basis, I do talk to a lot of parents about what's going on in the schools."
Brown said instituting the Covey program is a huge investment of time, training and money, and the district will track the progress in the Myrtle Beach schools before deciding whether to expand to other schools in the district. She said a lot of the model's success will be seen anecdotally, but there also will be some concrete and measurable ways to gauge progress.
Ultimately, McGuey said, it will take everyone's involvement, which in turn will create commitment, something Dicks said is a no-brainer.
"Something of this magnitude, it offers potential for every student," said Dicks, who hopes parents will respond and attend upcoming meetings. "If we come alongside the schools, it can only be a win-win."
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.