By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Students at Berrian Elementary School are learning what it takes to be a leader.
The school last year began honoring students who demonstrate leadership qualities. Those students are recognized through a program called BLT, which stands for "Berrian Leaders of Today, Leaders for Tomorrow."
Under this program, teachers nominate students who display care for others or take responsible action inside or outside the classroom. Then once a month, those nominated -- from 13 to 26 students at a time -- are presented with a medal and certificate at a special ceremony during Berrian's daily "Blastoff" session in the school's auditorium.
But that's not the end of it. For the following four weeks -- until the next monthly award ceremony is held -- the latest BLT inductees are given the opportunity to take on extra leadership roles in the school.
"They make up our leadership team, and they help to problem-solve things that students bring to them that are concerns in the school," explained Principal Chrissy Cox.
The students will be given responsibility to tackle small jobs around the school, and they all will take part in a community-service project. In addition, they will perform "outreach" in the school. For instance, they might help serve lunch in the cafeteria or take on the role of a friendly greeter who meets visitors at the school door, offering a firm handshake while looking them directly in the eye.
"They get to learn about service and what real leadership means," Cox said.
"Our whole goal is about impacting the community," she said. "As students are given more responsibility, they see the difference they're making on the school level, and our hope is that they realize they intrinsically have that ability to change others and make a difference in the lives of people right here in their community."
Cox said the BLT program has multiple benefits. Not only is it an esteem booster for students who realize a teacher thinks they might have some leadership ability, but it also helps other students who see their peers being recognized and begin to think they, too, might have what it takes to be considered a leader.
Cox said teachers nominate students for many different actions they take. For example, Cox said, "they may have noticed a friend is struggling and they offered some kind of support. Or they noticed at recess that a student doesn't have anyone to play with, so they run up and ask him to join their group."
Teachers are now keeping an eye out for similar acts of thoughtfulness and are nominating those students.
"We're just looking for those random things that are not led by the teacher but that they're doing on their own," Cox said.
One student who received a BLT award recently was Emily Mast, an 8-year-old third-grader. Emily said she was honored because "you do your work when you're supposed to."
She thinks it's great that kids are being recognized "for doing the right thing when no one is watching."
Devontay Wright, also 8, was another recent BLT honoree. "I got the award because I was here on time to class," he said.
Devontay said he also tries to follow the Seven Habits leadership curriculum that's taught at Berrian and most other schools in the Quincy School District.
Cox said the BLT program was inspired by the Seven Habits program, which involves teaching a series of guidelines for leadership and decision-making based on the "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" authored by Stephen Covey.
Cox said when Berrian implemented the Seven Habits curriculum several years ago, school officials took steps to emphasize leadership in students. "So we've built on that as we've grown in the Seven Habits," she said.
During the monthly BLT recognition events, a community leader is invited to Berrian to present the medals and talk to students about leadership.
For example, at a BLT ceremony Thursday morning the invited guest was Casey Otten, a firefighter with the Tri-Township Fire Department.
Otten told students about his job, noting how he must receive training, check his equipment regularly and be prepared to rush to an emergency at a moment's notice.
"Every day I get to help someone," he told students.
In an interview, Otten said he thinks the BLT program is a good thing for students.
"I think it's a great opportunity to recognize kids when they do the right thing and when they show examples of leadership," he said. "That way, their peers can see it, and it gives them a good feeling that they can take home and take with them throughout their lives."