In the past six years, a model for student success created by a Raleigh, North Carolina, elementary school principal has grown to touch students in more than 2,000 schools in 35 countries.

More than 16,500 students in Acadiana have been positively affected by Leader in Me program, and its founder, Muriel Summers applauded the community’s efforts to expand the model here as she addressed a crowd of 200 gathered for the United Way of Acadiana’s Educators’ Summit on Tuesday.

Summers, principal of A.B. Combs Leadership Magnet Academy in Raleigh, created the Leader in Me program using Franklin Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” to help build skills that teach them about setting goals and working to achieve them.

“You want to start talking about changing a community? You start by showing them a better way,” Summers said.

Much of Summers’ talk was focused on inspiring educators in the room to recognize their talents so they can help their students recognize and develop their own talents.

“I don’t ever want to hear you say, ‘I’m just a teacher,’ ” Summers told the crowd. “You are worth your weight in gold.”

The Combs school has been recognized nationally for its success.

“This movement you’ve started is empowering people around the globe — not just Acadiana,” said Margaret Trahan, president and CEO of United Way of Acadiana.

She said United Way’s goal is to help expand the Leader in Me program to 90 percent of schools in the area over the next five years.

“I know with the help of those in this room ... we’ll reach 90 percent,” Trahan said.

The United Way of Acadiana has helped launch the program in 29 schools across Acadiana. At least 21 public and private schools in Lafayette Parish have implemented the program and the Lafayette Education Foundation has helped to bring the program to public schools.

Trahan ticked off the success stories experienced at schools. One has seen a 50 percent drop in discipline referrals, she said, while another saw a 12 percentage point increase in standardized test scores. Yet another boasts a 98 percent student attendance rate. Leader in Me contributed to the schools’ successes, but it also took the work of committed educators, Trahan told the crowd.

Summers told the story of one of her beloved teachers, a “Miss Rose” who taught her in the fourth grade in a class of 32 students. That fourth-grade year came with challenges.

Summers said she was one of three students in her class who lost a parent that year and there were a few students in her class who would be identified today with attention-deficit disorder.

They also had the school mischief maker in her class, who led a prank that led to some bathroom flooding. Miss Rose’s intervention and a lesson in water works, Summers joked, could be why he’s a successful plumber today.

“She loved us through our challenges and recognized our greatness. ... There was no Leader in Me back then, but she certainly understood the habits before they materialized,” Summers said. “She was instrumental in why I became a teacher. I wanted to become a Miss Rose.”

Miss Rose was the kind of teacher who left a “heart imprint” and inspired her students to succeed, Summers said.

She told a story about another teacher in high school who didn’t employ the same kind of positive, encouraging approach in teaching her students.

Summers, a self-proclaimed poor test taker, said she had difficulty achieving a high score on her college entrance exams and took the SAT several times before settling on a final score. When she learned she was accepted at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, her high school teacher was one of the first people with whom she excitedly shared the news. The teacher wasn’t supportive and questioned the university’s decision.

“You?” Summers recalled the woman’s initial response.

“There must be a mistake,” the teacher told her and added that she’d call the university because her scores weren’t good enough to get her into UNC.

Those words still “leave an open wound that makes me cry no matter how many times I tell this story,” Summers said. “My charge to all of you is to be those teachers that leave heart imprints and not the wounds that bring me to tears 42 years later.”

Summers speech followed a showcase of the talents of Acadiana schoolchildren and students from Martin Petitjean Elementary in Rayne who shared anecdotes about how the “7 Habits” have helped them set goals in both the classroom and at home. Martin Petitjean third-grader Julianna Dupont quizzed her schoolmates about what they’ve learned from their participation in Leader in Me.

The young students’ voices carried over the crowd of about 200 gathered in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Student Ballroom. The students said they believe in working together, enjoy their leadership roles in the classroom and enjoy learning new things. One student shared her goal of not missing a day of school so she could achieve “100 percent attendance.” Her action plan: go to sleep by 8 o’clock every night.

Julianna’s mother, Paige Dupont, described how her family incorporates the program into their home life. The program is “all about the Golden Rule,” the mother of five said.

“It puts into words how I want to raise our children and live our lives,” Dupont said.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.