Leadership creates alternatives

When students arrive at the Shelby County Alternative School each morning they retreat to the library, book in hand, to complete a mandatory sustained silent reading period.

While those students can read any book on the shelf, some — with a little nudging from administers — have chosen to pick up books from influential leaders.

“Why not seed their minds with leadership, and we mean literally,” said Principal Mark Isley.

Isley and success coach Mary Woolard invited six students at the beginning of the school year to participate in a core leadership group focused on learning from books written by expert leaders such as Rudy Guiliani and John Maxwell. Isley said giving the kids books and telling them that someone sees their potential could be huge.

“These students are reading pivotal information that could help them make that turn to never having to come back to an alternative school,” Woolard said. “We have one student who has been a really strong personality, but we just want to encourage her to be strong in a positive not a negative way.”

Rosco, an 11th-grader from the Oak Mountain area, said he was ready to leave the school and get back to business.

“The books teach you how to treat other people whether they are good to you or not,” Rosco said. “I already was a leader, but that’s what got me in trouble. I was too busy telling people how it should be — I need to focus that on something else, like basketball.”

Getting to take part in the core leadership group provides the students with a sense of pride. Students at the alternative school aren’t even allowed to take textbooks home because they can be used as a means to smuggle drugs or knives into the building.

“I feel like I’ve definitely gotten a different vibe from teachers who have seen me reading the book,” said Ashley, a tenth-grader. “Several kids in my class have asked me about it or said I was lucky to get to take something home.”

Some students also gained a sense of pride in knowing that they were seen as leaders. Alex, a ninth-grader, said reading his chosen book taught him a new perspective.

“To be a leader you have to have your own thoughts,” Alex said. “When I talk to my friends I need to encourage them to do what the teachers says.”

Isley said he was surprised by the excitement he’s seen amongst the students selected.

“We want them to connect with the book and connect with us so that we can help them make changes in their lives,” Isley said. “John Maxwell would call it the law of connection. We didn’t just bring them in and hand them another book to read, we let them know we were giving them the books because we saw the ability within them to be leaders.”

Isley said he hopes to slowly expand the program to more of his students and to schools county–-wide.