ROCKVILLE -- Minnesota Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker has launched her statewide back-to-school tour.

Her first stop? John Clark Elementary in Rockville.

On Monday, Ricker and her team attended a student-led building tour, observed classroom lessons, and learned about school-specific initiatives.

Ricker says she was particularly impressed while observing a family-based activity pairing fifth-grade students with their younger siblings. The activity was designed locally at John Clark, and gives the older child an opportunity to lead lessons and classroom discussions on topics like respect, sharing with others and being kind.

To see the rest of the fifth grader's family so attentive to them, and answering, and seeing the younger students following along with what the fifth grader is doing...it’s demonstrating that respect. It's a joy to see and it really reinforces that when we give meaningful leadership opportunities to our students, they're eager to step up to them.

Ricker says she believes John Clark's sibling-focused program shows how capable schools are of addressing their own unique challenges.

They've said, "this is a real need that we have, here are some talents we have in the area, and here's a program we're going to accomplish locally." This family program where they're tapping into student leadership is just one great example.

Ricker will attend Technical High School's open house on Monday evening before the tour takes her to Cass Lake and Duluth in coming days.

Ricker was appointed to the post by Governor Tim Walz earlier this year. She previously served as a classroom teacher as well as Executive Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers.