WATERLOO — A student-led holiday meal at Expo Alternative Learning Center highlights the school’s embrace of leadership training.
Students worked in Expo’s kitchen Thursday mashing potatoes and de-boning a turkey for the annual feast. Others put the finishing touches on a variety of decorations in the art room and a nearby computer lab.
Still more students helped set up the cafeteria, served as greeters and even made speeches as their classmates dined.
“It’s a long-standing tradition, it’s just gotten bigger and better every year,” said Henry Shepherd, assistant principal. “I mean that in how involved the students are. This event really gives our students an opportunity to lead in multiple ways.”
That’s becoming a more intentional focus of the school as it implements the Leader in Me initiative this fall.
Created by Utah-based FranklinCovey, Leader in Me introduces students and teachers to the principals of Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and helps put them into practice. Expo, one of 21 Cedar Valley schools that have implemented the initiative, holds a unique position.
“We are the only high school in the Midwest implementing Leader in Me,” said Shepherd, and reportedly the first alternative school in the U.S. to do so. “To have a high school that is also an alternative school (implementing the program) is unheard of.”
After a book study, school visits and Leader in Me training over the past two years, Expo staff started getting students involved last spring by forming a lighthouse team. The team gives shape to student leadership efforts.
“A lot of students are learning about it in class,” said Shepherd, noting teachers are infusing their instruction with talk and practice of the seven habits. The school also offers a leadership course, where learning and using the habits are more of a focus.
Jerrod Campbell learned how to more effectively work with people when he took the class last quarter. “What we got taught was basically what we really need in life. It helped me a lot,” said the senior, who was helping to prepare the food and hopes to work as a chef after college.
Shepherd said “75 to 100 students are leading in one way or another for this event.” Expo High School has about 200 students. Other programs at the center serve students with discipline issues, those at risk of dropping out and drop-outs who have returned to school.
Payton Ferrie was among the students creating extensive decorations for the cafeteria. The sophomore takes notice when she sees signs around the school related to the seven habits.
She makes a point of reading the messages and thinking about how to use them in her day. “I feel like it helps kids,” said Ferrie.
Junior Dillon Tucker and a classmate took the lead in making some large displays, such as Christmas trees created out of pallet wood and a ladder covered with colorful ornaments.
“We’ve been given a lot of responsibility and control,” he said, under the guidance of teacher Charnell Breitbach. “She just throws ideas at us and we make it happen.”
Among those ideas was an old screen door that’s being turned into a holiday-themed photo booth. “I had just randomly picked this up at a salvage shop,” said Breitbach. She’s seen a lot of dedication from kids, some of whom have even been staying after school to finish their projects.
That’s one more sign of budding leadership Shepherd is hoping to nurture.
“It’s really about working with the kids and finding out what’s their genius, what’s their gift, and giving them the opportunity to lead in that way,” he said.