Seminar teaches teens to take lead in solving school problems

Scott Swanson

A group of high school students stood in the bright sunshine Thursday afternoon, April 5, vigorously discussing how to stage a realistic fight.

Punctuated by laughter and lots of theatrics, they worked through a variety of variations on the theme as they planned a skit they were to perform as part of a GEAR-UP leadership training seminar.

Kristin Adams, director of the district’s GEAR-UP program, which aims to encourage local youngsters to attend college, organized the workshop, which was held at the Evangelical Church Fellowship Hall.

Adams said the event, titled “Making a Change,” was in response to a lack of “school ownership and school pride” that she and other educators detect in many students at the high school. It was paid for by a $5,000 grant she procured for leadership training.

“The gist is that we’re hoping to take these kids and try to tackle some issues in our school culture, like garbage, language and mentoring.

“There’s a societal disconnect. Our kids don’t understand that it’s their responsibility to pick up their trash, that it’s all our responsibility to watch our language. It’s not just the janitor’s job to pick up the trash. It’s all of our job. It’s a very me-me society now.

“I want these kids to realize that giving back is more beneficial than not giving back.”

The seminar, led by Justin Boudreau, a motivational speaker for teens who frequently appears at GEAR-UP events, focused on leadership training, group unity, breaking down barriers between classes and working together as a student body.

Adams said the theme came from an idea that sophomores in her GEAR-UP class came up with in discussing those issues. She said the 54 students – all underclassmen – who participated in the workshop were those who responded to 90 invitations that were sent to students recommended by their teachers.

The teens came up with a slogan, “Make A Change,” otherwise known as “MAC Attack,” for the efforts they will make with their fellow students.

Freshman Jakob Hiett said the goal was to “have some changes in our school,” mentioning bullying and drugs as particular problems that need to be addressed.

“It was all the people who actually want to get stuff done,” he said. “I think definitely everybody who was involved wanted to get things done at school.”

Boudreau, who’s from Canada and now lives in San Diego, is a former beach volleyball player, teacher, coach, world traveler and musician who now specializes in leadership retreats and summer institutes for non-profit organizations and student associations across the country. He said his focus is on “experiential leadership training, where (teens) are part of the process.

“What I like about this group is they’re not here just to make a better climate at their school. They’re doing it a different way, not adults talking at them.”

Sophomore Jade Corliss said she found Boudreau’s approach “funny” and “interesting.”

“We learned you can be anything you want to be and nobody can stop you,” she said. “You don’t even realize you could be helping somebody when you do the littlest thing you do.”

In addition to the students, eight teachers attended the seminar. They are among 10 members of the high school faculty, who make up what Adams calls the “Dream Team,” from the GEAR-UP theme “Making Dreams Happen,” have agreed to take an active role in the process of working with students to make changes. They are Pat Davis, Keith Winslow, Melissa Klumpf, Nancy Ellis, Maggie Lindley, Chris Hiaasen, Pam Duman, Julie Harvey, Kerstin Brosterhous and Adams. Each will assist students in addressing particular problems that students identified as things they’d like to see different in their school, Adams said.

She said the timing of the seminar, immediately after news hit the school that Athletic Director and coach Kostanty Knurowski had been arrested on sexual abuse charges involving a former SHHS student, “wasn’t planned, but it worked out perfectly.

“That issue was on a lot of students’ minds,” Adams said. “But as unfortunate as has been the situation for our students this year, what I preach to them is that basically we have to move forward, come together and learn from it. We don’t just bad mouth individuals and disgrace them. We have to move forward.”

Sophomore Chase Hutchins said he thought the event was “pretty cool.”

“As it progressed through the day it developed deeper meaning – morals, beliefs, figuring out where you stand,” he said. “ I think that was important because you’ll be a better leader if you know where you stand.”

Junior Sadie Gordon said the students involved in the workshop have a common interest.

“We all cared about the same thing – making our school a better place,” she said, adding that she thought the workshop was helpful. “I think we needed to have it. It showed us that we have problems in our school and not just the teachers can fix them but that students can too. We can show other kids that if we work together, we can make things happen. It will take some time, but if we work together, things can happen.”