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Believing that her students in grades 5-8 would benefit greatly from developing their leadership, entrepreneurial and interpersonal skills, Jana Mayer developed and implemented an innovative program at Model Laboratory School that would accomplish that goal.

The social studies teacher and coordinator for extended learning at Model recently received the sixth annual Learning for Life Teaching Award, presented by Central Bank and the Eastern Kentucky University Center for Economic Education, in recognition of those efforts. The award was established to stimulate and recognize development and advancement in teaching decision-making and problem-solving with applications to personal finance, economics and entrepreneurship by Madison County elementary teachers. According to Center Director Dr. Cynthia Harter, the award review committee “found Mayer’s program very impressive and a valuable step in developing civic leaders who are capable, confident and knowledgeable.”

Mayer said the seed for the program was planted by Dr. Tom Martin, associate vice president for research and executive director of the Center for Economic Development, Entrepreneurship and Technology at EKU, who addressed Model faculty about the importance of developing leadership and entrepreneurial skills in students. “He told us that by the time our students were ready to enter the job market, more than likely, most would have to develop or create their own jobs. I found that astonishing. Looking at our Model Core, we expect our students to have presentation skills, and many of these are built into the high school curriculum. What about younger students? I thought the more practice and experience they had before high school, the more successful and confident they would become.”

 Mayer, with the support of Model Elementary Director David Naylor, developed a Lifelong Leaders program to foster leadership skills in her students by providing opportunities to utilize problem-solving skills in stressful situations and to expand their interpersonal skills.

 “I imagine these students using the interpersonal skills, such as a firm handshake, eye contact, manners and remembering to smile when speaking to someone will help them when meeting new people, especially adults, and allowing these students to represent what Model Lab expects of its students. I think we take for granted that our children know these skills, but without intentional teaching, many students are insecure of how to make small talk or engage with people whom they do not know, especially adults or professionals.”

During the 2018-19 academic year, an after-school club was formed to help determine which four Model students would travel to Atlanta for a national competition at the Ron Clark Academy. After witnessing the national event, Mayer collaborated with Harter and Dr. Michelyn Bhandari, professor of health promotion and administration, to develop a school-day curriculum that would benefit all Model students in 2019-20.

Mayer taught leadership lessons once a week for six weeks in preparation for a competition called The Gauntlet, with the top 20 students continuing to work with Mayer after school to determine the top four for the Atlanta event. “There are plans to continue incorporating these leadership skills into the classroom and encourage all students in grades 5-8 to compete in The Gauntlet next year and beyond.

She also partnered with EKU to engage students from the School of Business to act as judges for the school-level Gauntlet competition. Students competed in a fast-paced course of one-minute challenges showcasing their skills in conversation, quick-thinking, confidence, current events knowledge, and more. The challenges included “Tell Me about You,” an interview with a reporter; “Cooking Show,” in which students improvised and presented the creation of a meal using provided ingredients; “Interview with an American Hero,” a mock conversation with President Abraham Lincoln; and “Presidential Podium,” in which students took on the role of a U.S. president and answered current-event questions posed by a reporter.

 Mayer added that she was grateful for community support, noting that last year her students were invited to speak at a Richmond Chamber of Commerce event about the Lifelong Leaders program. “The students networked and practiced the skills they had learned and made a presentation detailing the importance of the program.”

Subsequently, other businesses invited the students to make presentations in order to learn how they could financially support students’ participation in the national competition, and offered valuable feedback about how well the students spoke and their mannerisms. Mayer noted that EKU Interim President Dr. David McFaddin and Director of Government and Community Relations Ethan Witt supported the students’ efforts and helped them gain additional sponsors.

“This also was an amazing experience for my students,” Mayer said. “The collaboration and networking with professionals within the community really helped them to understand how much these skills impact their interactions with others and their self-confidence.”

For more information about the Central Bank/EKU Learning for Life Teaching Award, contact Dr. Cynthia Harter at or visit the Center for Economic Education.