The elementary schoolchild had long brown hair and eager eyes as she looked up to her principal, Dennis Weiss.

"We're going to Skate City," she said. "Where do we go?"

"Bus 6," Weiss replied, and the youngster dashed off to the bus, through the front door of Eugene Field Elementary School in Rock Island.

She joined 300 of her classmates who loaded onto six buses bound for sites around the Quad-Cities as part of the Learn, Enrich And Discover, or LEAD, Fridays program.

Weiss dreamed up the LEAD Fridays initiative last year. This program is done every other week and involves the children in one of the activities they help to dream up, from roller skating, to playing guitar, to artwork under the direction of a teacher from the Figge Art Museum, Davenport.

This LEAD Fridays program is one reason Eugene Field school has been chosen a Leader in Me Lighthouse School by the Franklin Covey Co. It's part of a program that reflects the best-selling book, "The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People," by Stephen Covey.

This is a unique designation; Eugene Field school, part of the Rock Island-Milan School District 41, is one of only two designated in Illinois. Of the 2,719 "Leader in Me" schools in the world, only 239 have been named Lighthouse schools.

The LEAD Fridays program helps the children stay organized, learn how to plan and become educated on aspects of the community. Weiss said he came up with the idea after the district superintendent, Mike Oberhaus, challenged principals to find ways to do things differently in the schools.

It takes money. Last year, the first LEAD program cost $40,000 with money from three grants. This year, Deere and Co. gave Rock Island $80,000 for the program to be held for a second year at Eugene Field and for the first year at Denkmann Elementary School, also in Rock Island.

The Eugene Field students love LEAD Fridays, Weiss said. They make a choice from one of the classes offered and then stick with it for a quarter of the school year.

"This gives the students options, to find the purpose and passion in life," he said.

All 400 Eugene Field students take part in the program. About 70 percent of them take a bus to go to an activity elsewhere in the Quad-Cities. About one-third take a class that is held at the school.

This, for example, could be on computers, which students have used to make movies, including writing the movie script, directing and editing it. 

Those interested in athletics went to the Rock Island Fitness Center to play soccer or swim. A class in gymnastics was held at Quad-Cities Xtreme, Milan. There was even a sixth-grader at the school, Cade Barnes, who hosted 12 students in a class on the Rubik's Cube.

The principal said the programming helps Eugene Field create a culture at the school. All the children participate, so there are more who know each other at various grade levels.

The biggest challenge in the program was to make sure it didn't take away from academics, but Weiss found that if the school did not take "early outs" on Wednesdays and started classes a bit earlier, the time could be found.

The students get the same amount of academic time as any others in the district, he said, adding that he's going to speak about the program at a national education conference.

He also got buy-ins from the school staff and parents. Sixth-grade teacher Lisa Maxwell is a fan of the program. Few children get a chance to do these things during a school day, she said, and it's a chance for the students to learn new experiences.

"It's just breath-taking," she said.

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