Oak Knoll’s coeducational pre-K to grade 6 elementary school has unveiled “Leadership Thrives Here,” a new signature program that encourages grades 5 and 6 students to embrace their roles as leaders of the Lower School.

“We teach our kids how to be mathematicians and historians and dancers and actors and writers, and we tell them they’re the leaders of the school, but how do we really unpack that? What does that mean, how does someone become a leader?” said Lower School social studies teacher Leslie Smith, who spearheaded the program creation.

“Some people are just natural leaders, but some people aren’t,” she added. “So, if we want them to be leaders, we have to model it to help them define what that means.”

The program – led by Smith, alongside science teacher Tanya Grap; language arts, reading and religion teacher Kathleen Hoke; language arts, reading and religion teacher Beth Huck; math teacher Susan Mooney; and physical education teacher Charles White – is intended to give students the opportunity to step outside their comfort zones.

“It’s intended to give kids who normally don’t pursue things to have the chance to do them,” Smith said. “This is what it’s all about. This is who we are. The definition of leadership doesn’t just have to be someone who has positional leadership. It’s bigger than that, and they’re bigger than that and they’re better than that.

“Some people are just natural leaders, but some people aren’t,” Smith added. “So, if we want them to be leaders, we have to model it to help them define what that means.”

Smith said the themes of the program are woven into in daily classes and extracurricular activities, and that Leadership Thrives Here is designed to encourage students who may not necessarily seek out chances to lead.

“At this stage, they need to be able to be in an environment where they can try certain things,” she added.

So far, students have learned to define leadership and performed exercises related to the role of listening and inclusion in leadership. Students also learned about how leadership can be valuable when dealing with moral dilemmas.

Students have also learned how leadership and inclusion fit perfectly into the educational and spiritual philosophy of Holy Child founder Cornelia Connelly.

Other changes, both little and large, have occurred throughout the Lower School community as a result of the program, Smith said. Grades 5 and 6 students have been offered the opportunity to design bulletin boards and lead morning announcements, as well as enjoy the expansion of the Student Council to include positions relating to athletics, faith and the arts.

The program also includes additional accountability in academics by providing the students the opportunity to be more engaged in their grades and tracking their progress while receiving additional academic counseling from faculty.

The program was inspired by the works of Frank Rudneski, author of “50 Great Things Leaders Do”; various materials from Carol Dwek regarding growth mindset; as well as Tom Hoerr’s, “The Formative Five: Fostering Grit, Empathy, and Other Success Skills Every Student Needs,” which inspired another signature program introduced to the entire Lower School during the 2018-19 school year.

Students pose with muffins and bracelets for charity.