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Madison Cathcart wants to own her own cosmetic line, Johnjuana Fisher wants to be an oncologist so she can find a cure for cancer, Skylar Sabbath wants to be a sports reporter and have a home for foster kids, Omari Powell wants to be mayor, Cameron Edwards wants to be a sports announcer, Mia Diaz wants to be a small business owner, Kaylyln Hayes wants to be an actress, Grace Diaz wants to be a pediatrician. These seventh and eighth grade students have big dreams, but they also attend a school that takes their dreams seriously.

For the past four years Clay Classical Academy middle school students have been working on leadership skills through a weekly program with the Future Leaders Outreach Network (FLON).

“The impact of this program has been creating young leaders at our school. The culture I try to create for Clay Classical Academy is a culture of leadership and this program plays an important role in teaching students leadership, career readiness, presentation, and communication skills,” says Campus Director Jacqueline Mercury-Owens.

Every Wednesday is a business professional dress day for students. Boys come in slacks, button down shirts and ties while girls wear skirts or dresses. The professional dress helps set the tone for the weekly visit by six facilitators from FLON. For 45 minutes they work with students on a range of leadership skills. Students create goal sheets and take personality surveys to better help them understand themselves and make plans for their future.

This September, the middle school students attended FLON’s 12th annual Pursuing My Dreams EAGLE Leadership Summit.

“It was like a business meeting with a luncheon, roundtables, listening to different speakers and taking notes,” explains Mercury-Owens. “It was a wonderful experience for our students and this year I brought the fifth grade to help them get excited for next year when they can be part of the program.”

For many of the students, the leadership summit encouraged them to take their schoolwork more seriously, realizing they need to take responsibility for their future and start setting goals.

“The leadership summit program was motivating and inspiring because it showed that someone actually cared about us and what we are going to do in life. It taught us that we need to keep pushing and trying to accomplish our goal and that we can do anything if we put our minds to it,” says seventh grader Kaylyn Hayes.

At the leadership summit, the students heard from Anthony Williams II, Jauna Brown, Ronald Clemons, Vician Santos, Gloria Reynolds, and Diana Clemons, the executive director of FLON.

“I really liked Gloria Reynolds’ talk about building your own brand. She told us not to copy someone else, but to be an entrepreneur and pursue our own dreams,” says eighth grader Cameron Edwards.

According to Mercury-Owens, building a culture of leadership has had a positive effect on student behavior as well as academics. Students are proud of their school and they seek out ways to help improve the school. They lead tours, take responsibility for school events, read to kindergarteners and help out in the front office.

President of Student Council Johnjuana Fisher and the Vice-President Omari Powell recently met with Mercury-Owens to discuss a way to develop an incentive program to encourage positive behavior. They had the idea of creating an Eagle Award that can be given to students who have been model students.

“Our students are coming up with ideas for improving their school all of the time. They want to be actively involved because they want to have a positive impact,” says Mercury-Owens. “This mindset of students taking responsibility and being leaders makes teaching in the classroom so much more rewarding.”

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