The Centra Homes Blog

Education in Action: A Generation of New Leaders for the North Metro

January 21st, 2019

A coordinated school-wide improvement model is having a large impact on University Avenue Elementary Aerospace, Engineering and Science School. Leader in Me is delivering life skills that are changing perspectives for students and their families.

A strong school culture can be a crucial component to help drive educational outcomes for students and allow educators to better engage parents and the community.

Yet at University Avenue Elementary School in Blaine, the diverse makeup of the student body has historically made this a bit of a challenge. The school includes families who speak 30 languages at home and more than half of students are under the federal poverty line. While this cultural and economic diversity is a great asset, it can also hinder educators in making vital connections with students and their parents.

What Is The “Leader In Me” Model?

Seeking to build a common culture, the school turned to a school improvement model called Leader In Me to help bridge the gap. The model is based on the worldwide best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey and its implementation has empowered students by helping give them the skills they’ll need for success in the classroom and in life.


“They are learning the habits which focus on skills like empathy, personal accountability and collaboration,” said Principal Diedre Bloemers.

University Avenue Elementary is a magnet school with a unique emphasis on Aerospace, Children’s Engineering and Science (ACES). Along with this focus on academics, faculty also sought to deliver life skills that reach beyond the walls of the school. Thus began the collaboration with Leader in Me to add the crucial component of a framework for the school’s academic requirements.

“This is not a curriculum or program. Leader in Me is all about delivering the necessary life skills to build self-worth and work well with others,” said Bloemers, “and it is working like nothing I’ve seen before.”

Integrating the Seven Habits

Students using the model learn age-appropriate lessons and application of the seven habits. Each fall into one of three main categories:

  • Independence
  • Interdependence
  • Continual Improvement

By learning how to apply habits like “begin with the end in mind” and “think win-win” students are not only building skills, but the framework to apply them throughout their lives.

“This gives us a common language to apply throughout the day,” said Bloemers, “and each and every student is learning how to apply the seven habits to help them be successful in life.”

Community and Staff

Bloemers says she knew that the program was connecting with parents when she began to see increased engagement in school events – noting a doubling of the attendance at the school’s kickoff event this year.

“We had over 700 people at kickoff. That was roughly twice as big as we expected,” Bloemers said, “Leader in Me was a large driving force in turning out parents who see we are doing something different, something that connects all of us.”

And it is not only parents and students who are seeing the change. Bloemers says that the school faculty is also re-energized and more engaged than ever before. As an example, she shared that a June 2018 Leader in Me Institute had over 80% of staff in attendance, despite being optional.

“Our end of year event took place after the last day of school. Teachers were exhausted, but their commitment to Leader in Me brought them back for a two-day workshop,” Bloemers said, “It was awesome.”

Origins of the Leader in Me Program

For such a successful program, it is worth noting that Leader in Me nearly didn’t happen for University Avenue Elementary. Despite planning for over a year, a key grant was unexpectedly lost and the implementation of the model was suddenly in jeopardy. Fortunately, this was precisely the time that Coon Rapids-based Centra Homes was looking to increase philanthropy in the north metro and found out about the project.

“Dale Wills from Centra Homes was like an angel with perfect timing,” Bloemers said, “his company’s generous contribution provided the resources to make all of this possible.”

Centra stepped forward, understood the need and funded the program, putting the implementation schedule back on track.

“Leader in Me is really an investment in these kids,” says Centra President Dale Wills, “helping fund this for them is just our organization putting win-win into practice.”

Leader in Me in Action

Bloemers says that while the program was only fully implemented this year, the results they have seen speak volumes to what is truly possible. As an example of its transformational impact, she notes the students’ approach when they saw classmates who were unable to play in the snow during recess because they lacked snow pants and winter gear.

“Our students got together and immediately applied the concept of synergy from their lessons,” Bloemers says, “The result was a winter clothes donation drive, all directed by students.”

The drive began with a video announcement created by the student leadership team, homemade posters and a decorated shoebox for donations. The net result was sets of winter gear, a lesson put into action and a greater appreciation for others achieved. It is an example of how empathy and synergy are taking root at University Avenue Elementary, and a school culture is emerging.

“If we can help kids believe in themselves,believe in others, and be proactive and accountable, there is no limit to how far they’ll go in life.”
— Diedre Bloemers, Principal, University Avenue Elementary

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