Kyrene academies 1
Brian Johnson/AFN Jack Smith (right), a fifth-grader at Kyrene de los Cerritos, discusses with classmates how his goals were progressing during group time in Megan Callaghan's class Thursday. The leadership techniques piloted in Callaghan's fifth-grade class will be used throughout the school when students return in the fall. May 6, 2010

Kyrene de los Cerritos students will be tracking their own progress and setting their own goals next year, learning seven particular habits in the process.

The Kyrene Elementary School District is starting three specialized academies next year, including a leadership academy at the Ahwatukee Foothills' Cerritos. The Cerritos leadership academy will be based on the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey.

The other academies will be dual language, which will teach students to be fluent in both English and Spanish, at Kyrene de los Ninos Elementary School, and a college preparatory academy, where all students will be expected to learn in accelerated classes at Kyrene Middle School. Both of those schools are in Tempe.

A Cerritos teacher approached Principal Darcy DiCosmo with the idea of using the "Seven Habits" as part of staff development last year. However, DiCosmo and a small group of teachers quickly saw the lessons in the book as something that could be adapted to the classroom.

"When I read it I said, ‘Gosh, this is what we can do. We can have the students take ownership of what they do,'" DiCosmo said.

Cerritos isn't changing the curriculum it teaches, but will incorporate leadership techniques into existing lessons, DiCosmo said.

A lot of that boils down to having students track their own progress and set their own goals for improvement.

"I feel too often kids do things because they're expected to or told to. We want to shift that," DiCosmo said.

Teachers have already gone through some training on the "Seven Habits," and just about every teacher is already using it in their classroom in one way or another, DiCosmo said.

Plus, a small group of teachers last year visited a district in Los Angeles that had already adopted the material, and a leadership instructor provided by the district works at the school to assist teachers with working techniques into their classrooms.

Next year, the program will be a little more formalized. Teachers are receiving additional training this week and will spend the summer improving techniques for translating the habits into the classroom, and students will start tracking their own progress in classes next year, DiCosmo said.

One example of those new techniques was on display in Megan Callaghan's fifth-grade classroom on Thursday.

Callaghan had the class pull their chairs into a community circle, then asked each student to explain whether they were above the line, below the line or in the middle - basically, what their mood was like and why they were feeling that way.

They then went around again, discussing what they had done to make progress toward personal goals, which ranged from improving performance on timed math tests to unlocking the next level in a video game.

Finally, Callaghan opened up the floor to appreciations.

"I appreciate Jacob, because he always comes into class with a big smile on his face," said one student.

"I appreciate Mrs. Callaghan for teaching us how to be a respectful class," another student said.

Callaghan said she noticed an improvement in her classroom after she started using the leadership material. They had started out the year very chatty, but behavior and schoolwork both improved after she started using techniques like the community circle and tribes, which are small groups students frequently work with.

"It helps them feel part of the community," Callaghan said. "Teamwork is easier because they feel like they're part of the group."

Activities like the community circle help classmates get to know each other, said Miles Barrios, 10.

"I think it's fun talking to people about what's going on in their life," Miles said.

Classmate Lauryn Johnson said getting to know her classmates has also benefited her schoolwork.

"It makes you more confident in your work," said Lauryn, 10. "People won't respond to you negatively."

DiCosmo said she hopes to have proof of higher academic scores under the new methods next year, but for now, she only has anecdotes that students are taking to the methods.

For instance, students will come to her office and talk to her about things like "creating a win-win situation" for themselves and other students.

And a third-grade teacher said a class had set a goal that they would all get at least 80 percent on tests in a particular subject. When the students achieved that goal, they decided to raise it to 85 percent.

"The leadership just means, ‘I'm in charge of myself. I can do this on my own,'" DiCosmo said. "And that's how kids find out what their strengths are."

Cerritos is hosting an information night for parents who would like more information about the program from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. May 13 at the school, 14620 S. Desert Foothills Parkway.

Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or




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