At the start of the school year, Silver Lake Elementary School fifth-grader Max Negrete-Espinosa set a goal of making the honor roll by the second marking period.

Second-grader Miles Crawford said he wanted to achieve higher scores on his practice tests for math and language arts.

Meanwhile, Murphy Moran said he simply wanted to be more patient with her little brother.

Last Friday, those students and dozens of their classmates explained to parents and community members how they’ve been able to meet those goals and many more by using skills they learned from their school’s involvement in the Leader In Me program.

“I think it’s helped me to become a better person,” Negrete said. “It gives you encouragement to work harder and teaches you how to solve problems without everyone getting upset. I think everyone can benefit from Leader In Me.”

Launched in 2008 by Utah-based FranklinCovey Education, the Leader in Me program seeks to foster student empowerment and personal accountability by developing a school culture built around the principals laid out in Stephen Covey’s 1989 self-help book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Using Covey’s follow-up books “7 Habits of Happy Kids” and “7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens” participating schools like Silver Lake Elementary encourage their students to set personal goals, take ownership of their attitudes, make schedules, consider the feelings of others, work together and practice healthy living, like eating right and getting plenty of exercise.

That includes starting the school year with students setting personal and academic goals, as well as developing a road map to achieve those aims.

“When I ask parents what qualities they want to see in our students they say things like responsibility, self-motivation, integrity and being considerate,” Silver Lake Principal Cyndi Clay said. “No one ever says a four on the [Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System], because, while academic instruction is why we’re here, it’s just one piece of what getting an education is all about.”

Silver Lake and Cedar Lane elementary schools became the first schools in the Appoquinimink School District to pilot the Leader In Me process two years ago, while Old State Elementary introduced the program this year.

Over the course of five years, the I Am A Leader Foundation provides participating schools with training, resources and ongoing coaching on how to implement Covey’s leadership skills in everything from schoolwork to resolving childhood squabbles.

In exchange, each school must return $5,000 a year to the foundation, most of which gets raised through fundraisers and community donations.

“There’s no question it’s worth it, because since we introduced Leader In Me at Silver Lake, our disciplinary referrals have gone down while our academic achievement has gone up,” Clay said. “It’s really created energy, motivation and a fire among our students to do better and we’re seeing a lot more confidence as they learn to become self-reliant and more aware of their ability to control their own destinies and make better choices about how they react to problems.”

Parents who attended the second-annual Leadership Day at Silver Lake Elementary on Friday said they’ve also noticed a positive change in their children.

“I’ve been amazed by the difference I’ve seen from my kids on even a day-to-day basis,” said Dana Riley, the mother of two Silver Lake students and vice president of the school’s parent-teacher association. “I feel like it really helps kids to become more independent and the best part is, they bring that home and teach us how to practice the seven habits ourselves.”

Jamie Churchill, the mother of a second grader at Silver Lake, said she credits the program with helping to turn around her child’s burgeoning academic career.

“When he started in first grade, he was shy and behind academically, but he just got fours on the DCAS in math and English and he’s been taking on more and more leadership roles at school,” she said. “He’s grown so much and I think that’s a credit to this program and the wonderful staff here. The combination has just been great.”