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Taking the Lead

Bell Elementary may be the newest elementary school in the district, yet it’s quickly becoming a hot spot for public speaking engagements.

There isn’t a debate team or speech club at Bell (at least not yet) but there are plenty of opportunities for students to hear messages from the likes of country music artists, former NFL players, elected officials and civil servants. And the stories always seem to resonate on one central theme – leadership.

It’s something that Andy Kane and Al Green, a third grade teachers at the school, decided needed to be addressed with several of the boys at Bell. Some of the students were more rambunctious than the usual 10- or 11-year olds, so instead of getting on to them after making a poor decision or a discipline referral, they formed an after-school club to tackle the thought process head on.

“We decided that we needed to teach these boys about what positive leaders think and do and what they don’t think and do,” Mr. Kane said. “We decided on some core character traits that we would focus on and include those traits into our discussions and the messages delivered by our guest speakers.”

The Bell Leadership Academy was born from that concept, with the two teachers recruiting other males in the building to support their group. By the time the spring semester rolled around, 25 students were taking part in bi-monthly meetings and learning about leadership and character through group activities, campus projects and lectures.

Guest speakers like UFC fighter Chris Brennan reminded the boys that every decision they make has a consequence, while Denton County Sheriff’s officer Orlando Hinojosa stressed the importance of being humble and leading by example. The boys responded by asking questions about obstacles the men had overcome or mistakes they had made, and how they responded accordingly.

On one of the final visits of the school year, Chuck Greenberg – former owner of the Texas Rangers and current owner of the Frisco Roughriders – engaged the students in a candid discussion about determination equaling success. Mr. Greenberg mentioned some of his own failures and mistakes in the business world and how he didn’t let them stop him from achieving his goals. He also reminded the students that he never compromised what he believed in to get the result he wanted.

“When you grow up, everything always comes down to knowing your values and understanding how you express them in what you do. It’s ok to not succeed, but it’s not ok to stop trying or to continue to better yourself,” Mr. Greenberg said.

Christian Ford, a fifth grader in the Bell Leadership Academy, shared a conversation with Mr. Greenberg after his presentation. The Bell teachers watched from afar as the student looked him directly in the eye and offered responses of “yes sir” and “no sir” during their brief exchange.

Mr. Kane, who said office referrals have declined and behavior has improved, beamed with pride.

“I believe we have planted a seed in these kids that they now understand that they define who they are through the decisions they make and their reactions to adversity,” he said. “We have some great kids and we have some that are still a work in progress, but we are in and we’re making a difference.”