About this time last year, I sat down to lunch with Kelly Kovacs and Shannon Long from Central Office in CSISD. Our topic was the progress on LEADS, a student leadership empowerment initiative that we had been working on for the last six months. One by one, the members of the team had been called away to other duties or simply moved on, and the three of us were all that was left. And now they too were being called away to other duties.
I believed in this program, and I needed something of significance to invest my energies in, so I asked if I could continue to develop the program. They said yes. I asked if I could build my team. They said yes. And with that, I was off.
Today, twenty CSISD 5th-8th graders- that will now be called Ambassadors- walked into the Transportation Conference room for the first ever LEADS meeting, #LEADSLaunch we called it. Campuses represented included Cypress Grove Intermediate, Pecan Trail Intermediate, A&M Consolidated Middle, College Station Middle, and Wellborn Middle schools. Our LEADS Innovators- our teacher supporters- included myself, Amy Powell (CG), Deidre Merseal (PT), Javan Cashaw and Emily Harding (AMCMS), Christie Brod and Eric Zylman (CSMS), and Bunny Muncie and Jill Butler (WMS).
We greeted the Ambassadors and introduced ourselves, then asked them to do the same.
This was the moment- would they freeze up, balk at the intro, or would the shells crack and leaders begin to emerge.
The shells cracked. The Ambassadors shared their names and what they hoped to get from LEADS, each becoming more and more confident as they shared.
I spoke of the vision of LEADS, and also defined leadership and Ambassador- they are representative of not just themselves, their campus and LEADS, but all of CSISD. They carry a weight, but it is shared by their fellow Ambassadors and by the Innovators as well. I told them they were breaking new ground- being the first to do something that could have tremendous impact.
And many of them shared visions for changing not just one small aspect of their campus, but of changing the culture.
We built some spaghetti towers. Then they fell over. And we learned lessons about communication, structural integrity, and that failure is OK. And that failure is possible- even with LEADS. But that if their plan doesn't work, one Ambassador shared -"Well, then we learned what not to do!" (That was a great moment!)
Merseal and Brod walked the Ambassadors through the True Colors Personality test, and the Ambassadors learned about their diversity of perspectives. They learned that each of their personalities had strengths and weaknesses, but that working together would lead to better success.
Powell challenged Ambassadors to find and use their voice. Ambassadors explored how communication is more than spoken and written words, it is body language, timing, and intent. They learned the power of listening to speak better.
Zylman then talked the Ambassadors through servant leadership, providing models from Ghandi to Jesus to Yoda. See, Yoda is always teaching, even in a lightsaber battle. If our Ambassadors are going to change the cultures of their campuses, then they must serve them with humility.
Then we ate lunch.
The afternoon activity exposed Ambassadors to a problem- students sitting alone at lunch. As a part of the gallery walk activity, Ambassadors had been putting post-its on posters for "What makes a leader?" "Barriers to Communication" and now how to solve the lonely lunch situation.
As the Ambassadors got into their campus groups to work- many quickly realized the issue was deeper than just sitting alone at lunch. It had to go to loneliness at school in general, it had to go beyond surface level discussions, it had to go beyond simply physically being near a person while they consumed lunch. See, almost everyone knew someone who ate alone, or hid out in a teacher's room. More than a handful had themselves felt the weight of a lonely lunch.
The Ambassadors then created a video to explain their solution to our group, then will further develop their video to potentially share on their campus as the first LEADS project.
We closed the day with the challenge that Ambassadors be able to explain to their peers just what LEADS is- to be, you know, Ambassadors.
I have planned many events in my adult life, but never has so much time gone into one thing. Over a year and a half of planning from inception to launch. And as I stood in the empty room at the close of the day, I felt content. I felt proud of my Innovators for their work and their heart for these students. I was impressed greatly by the Ambassadors' steps already taken to impact their campuses after just one day.
I felt certain that the vision is just getting started.
I teach Psychology, Sociology, World History Honors and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team, sponsor the TED Ed Club, and I am the Lead Innovator for LEADS CSISD (A student leadership empowerment program for 5th-8th graders). I am an aspiring administrator.