May 20 race supports future leaders at primary school

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News|USA TODAY NETWORKS

There will undoubtedly be plenty of people looking to take the lead Sunday, May 20, in the Lead the Way 5K and Fun Run at Black Mountain Primary School.

That’s appropriate too, not just because it’s a race, but also because it's a benefit that helps the community’s next generation become a different type of leader.

"Leader in Me" is a program that applies aspects of the Franklin Covey Co. book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” to a school setting. The program teaches children leadership and life skills.

Third-graders Nicholas Bartman (from left), Clancy Harrin, Gabby Puckett and Asher Lewkowicz, members of the running club Hutchins' Hustlers Club, practice running skills at Black Mountain Primary School May 11.

The primary school, which contains kindergarten-third grades, began using the program in 2016. Teachers are trained to model positive leadership habits and to teach the students to incorporate them into their daily lives.

Third-grade teacher Leigh Hutchins and kindergarten teacher Kelsey Parker have been organizing the race since 2016. It started as a way to raise money for the implementation of the Leader in Me program. 

"Now the money goes toward developing the program," Hutchins said.

As the school nears the end of its third year with the program, second-graders have now been learning the seven habits - leadership, responsibility, accountability, problem solving, adaptability, communication, initiative and self-direction, creativity, cross-cultural skills and teamwork - since kindergarten. 

"The influence of it is growing because kids are becoming more and more comfortable with the vocabulary involved," Parker said. "They've been learning about it since they got here."

Parker works with her kindergarten students on understanding the words associated with the seven skills involved. 

"The language is pretty foreign to them, so we talk about words like 'proactive' and 'courage,'" she said. "We also try to work with the parents to help them understand what the program is all about."

The kids internalize what they learn about leadership, Parker added. 

"We had a new student at the school, and a teacher sent one of her kindergartners to welcome the new student," she said. "That kid came to the office, introduced themselves and said 'welcome to Black Mountain Primary, we're glad to have you here.'"

That interaction is an example of what the "Leader in Me" program teaches the students, Parker believes. 

For third-graders, leadership looks a little more advanced, according to Hutchins. 

"We have student jobs in all grade levels," she said. "But this year we had third-graders complete applications for jobs in the school at an application station. They had to apply and say why they would be a good candidate."

Teachers at the school organize clubs focused on a variety of subjects and open to all students. Parker has a Kindness Club that teaches students about the impact of being kind, and Hutchins has a running club in which children practice skills for the sport. 

The clubs, the teachers said, help provide students with an outlet beyond academic success. 

Third-grader Clancy Harrin is a member of the Hutchins' Hustlers Club. She plans to participate in the Leader in Me 5K this year. 

"I'm really excited about this race because it will be my first 5K I'm running alone," she said. 

The Lead the Way 5K has attracted about 150 runners each of the past two years. Hutchins said this year's race will be identical to the first two. 

"We've been lucky to have great sponsors who believe in this program and support what we're doing at the school," she said. "It's great to see the community show up and offer their support too."

Registration for the fun run and 5K will remain open until the day of the race (runners can sign up on There is a $20 fee for the 5K and a $10 fee for the fun run. 

"We'll also have shirts for sale," Hutchins added. "This year a kindergarten student drew the design."