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Showing leadership, one opened milk carton at a time

Bringing smiles, a friendly face and kindness to kindergartners

Comstock Park — Liya Tekeste is already showing signs of being a true leader with an empathetic heart. The second-grader at Stoney Creek Elementary has volunteered with kindergartners in the cafeteria and the classroom, bringing smiles and a friendly face to the younger students.

“I like to see kids smile all the time. It makes my heart so warm,” Liya said.

At the beginning of the school year, Liya decided to help kindergartners navigate the cafeteria. She brought straws and spoons to students, answered questions, wiped down tables and helped open milk cartons. 

“I always like to meet new kids. I like to help,” Liya said. 

Impressed and moved by the second-grader’s generosity, Stoney Creek Principal Tiffany Jackson spoke about Liya at a recent school board meeting. She said Liya is a phenomenal student with the drive to be successful and the heart to help others.

“She’s a very special leader,” Jackson said. “She has a really, really sweet soul. I love it.”

Liya Tekeste volunteered to help kindergartners in the lunchroom

Paying Panther Bucks Forward

And there’s more.

Students who model the school’s leadership mantra — safe, responsible, respectful and kind — can earn “Panther Bucks.” Every Friday those who have earned them can select a trinket or toy from the school’s treasure trolley. They also can save them up for bigger purchases, such as lunch with a special teacher or a day as an assistant principal. 

Liya saved up 20 Panther Bucks, which she elected to use reading to a couple kindergarten classrooms.

“I read the book and show them the pictures,” Liya said. “I like to see kids smile all the time.” 

Advice From A Pro

Liya has experience working with younger kids; she is the eldest daughter of two brothers and one sister. 

‘She’s a very special leader. She has a really, really sweet soul. I love it.’

— Tiffany Jackson, Stoney Creek Elementary principal

She got over her initial nervousness about volunteering, and advises other students to “try your best and not get that nervous.”

Second-grader Liya Tekeste

Cultivating Leadership

Liya said those who want to be a leader should follow the school’s leadership expectations. 

Stoney Creek Elementary takes part in the Leader in Me program, which teaches personal leadership based on the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. The school has been using the program – designed to develop good organizational and communications skills in a child-friendly format – for nearly six years. 

Jackson said Leader in Me gives students the opportunity to show off their leadership skills. Stoney Creek’s leadership team added “kind” to behavior expectations last year.

“We expect students to be safe, be respectful, be responsible and be kind every day – even when no one is looking,” she said.

Liya has put those expectations into action.

“Say ‘hi’ to everyone even if you don’t know them. That’s how you make friends. Be kind to them and they’ll be kind back to you.”

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Karen Gentry
Karen Gentry covers Comstock Park. She moved to the Grand Rapids area in the mid-1980s and has been a resident of Comstock Park since 2002. She understands the complexity, rewards and challenges of the teaching profession as she has five years of experience as a high school teacher at River Valley High School in Three Oaks, Mich. and St. Stephen High School in Saginaw. As a reporter for the Advance Newspapers and Mlive she covered Sparta, Kent City and Northview schools. She is happy to be a part of the great team of journalists at School News Network and writing about Comstock Park Public Schools. She is a graduate of Lake Michigan Catholic High School in St Joseph, Michigan and Central Michigan University. Read Karen's full bio

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