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Students taking charge of their education in Waterville

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First of two columns 

WATERVILLE — Imagine a school district where the students are taking charge of their education, holding themselves accountable for their actions and learning a set of skills that will help them thrive for a lifetime.  

This is the reality at tiny Waterville School.   A year ago, every adult who works with Waterville students — including bus drivers, food service workers, teachers and staff — received intensive training in using  "The Leader In Me" program, based on Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Think of it as a new operating system for the school. The principles, developed for business,  are simple and increasingly being applied to education: Be Proactive (you are responsible for your education); Begin With The End In Mind (have goals); Put First Things First (prioritize your work); Think Win-Win (rather than I win, you lose); Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood (listen carefully); Synergize (use teamwork); and Sharpen The Saw (renew yourself mentally, emotionally and physically).   

Last week, I had the privilege of seeing this new way of developing leadership at an open house and it was impressive. The new approach is already driving success. The school earned a 2013 state achievement award for student growth and it was honored as a Highly Implementing School for 2012-2013, according to Superintendent Cathi Nelson. Further,  the school has a National Merit Scholar candidate and more than 30 students submitted Advance Placement tests or portfolios.  

But just as impressive is the attitude of students, teachers and others who work in the district. When you walk through the doors of the combined elementary, middle and high school, you can sense its a high-energy environment. That was apparent when we were greeted by the poised and confident ASB President, Hanna Clements and during impromptu interviews of 3rd grade students Cole Borden and Cali DeFord. These youngsters had a personal mission statement, goals and objectives for every class, and a timeline for getting things done and were taking full ownership of their academic and personal lives.  The program exposes kids to the concept of "The Leader In Me," which means that every person can be a leader in the things they are passionate about.  

Teacher Justin Grillo was the prime mover behind the effort to bring 7 Habits thinking to the school. The program "gives (students) the tools to reach the full potential — to reach their greatness," Grillo told the educators who were assembled.  

Tabitha Mires, the high school principal, said the school now feels like a college campus. "We trust them to be leaders," she said.  Teachers have gained just as much from the experience. They are using the 7 Habits training and language in working with each other.   People in the community are noticing the difference.

The school is offering free 7 Habits training to community members so that these important skills and tools can be further cemented in the minds of students and also help individuals in the community enhance their lives.  

This could well be the key to education transformation. Something remarkable is happening here that is making Waterville a model for educational excellence.

Tomorrow: Answering common concerns about 7 Habits training