The Ottawa school district is full of surprises. I would like to share one such very positive surprise with you today.

There is a huge gap between the fifth-grade level at the elementary school and sixth grade at the middle school. Every teacher, administrator, parent and student hopes the current fifth-graders will be prepared to make the leap to OMS. Every year since I have been involved in education, someone always is trying to come up with an idea to make the transition easier and to make sure the students have the leadership skills necessary to succeed.

Shortly after winter break this year, Becky Blaue, the Lincoln Elementary School counselor, came up with the idea to have a fourth- and fifth-grade group better represent the entire school and learn how to participate in community service. These students are the oldest kids at the school, and she thought it would be time to hone their leadership skills.

Information went out to all the fourth- and fifth-graders, and they had an opportunity to apply for a position in the group. Each student had to fill out an application and then had an oral interview with chosen staff. The Lincoln Living Leadership Team was established with 15 members in January and soon their first activity began. The group meets every other Thursday for lunch with Janelle Jenkins, site coordinator for Communities in Schools at Lincoln. Its members plan the next activities and discuss what is happening in the school, as well as ways they can help and be active.

Lincoln has about 70 percent of its students on free and reduced lunch status. It has about 50 students participating in the weekend BackSnack program offered by Harvesters, a Kansas City area food bank. For those not familiar with this program, there is a great need to send backpacks home over the weekend to help supply nutritional needs for these 50 students. The Lincoln Living Leadership Team decided this would be its first community service project and planned to help by organizing a food drive for Harvesters.

The team met with each class and explained about the food drive. Its members decided to have a friendly completion between classes to see which class could bring the most food items for the drive. Each leadership team member talked to a class and quickly got the momentum growing. They had the drive at the end of February, during the two big snowstorms, and the drive ended the first week of March. The fifth-graders were the winners with 269 cans of food and a total of 1,046 cans for the whole school. Of course, we know who the real winners were. I canít imagine how much 1,046 cans of food helped during this cold winter time.

The Lincoln Living Leadership Team had such a good time carrying out this plan, its members quickly decided to have another activity. School is winding down and the students decided to challenge each other by bringing a book to school for a book swap. The teamís emphasis was to give additional reading opportunities and keep interest in books by expanding their reading horizons. The book swap will help kids choose a different genre of book and will give them opportunity to try new types of books without any cost. The students will be able to swap books all day with each other. The goal is to have new books to start summer reading. Every teacher and parent will be delighted that the interest in reading will grow through the summer.

I am amazed at how just a small idea can grow into such huge programs ó all because leadership was put into hands of students. To the Lincoln Living Leadership Team: Keep up the good work. We are proud of you.

Marge Steven is an Ottawa school board member.