Middle schoolers learn leadership skills [Greenwich Time]

October 28, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Greenwich Time

When state Sen. L. Scott Frantz walked into an important Wednesday-morning meeting in Greenwich, he encountered an uncommon audience: A group of area legislators who were all keen to hear him impart leadership advice.

“There are lots of different styles,” said Frantz, who is in his third term representing the 36th Senate District, which comprises Greenwich and parts of Stamford and New Canaan. “It’s a lifelong education. Believe me, at 53 years old, I’m still learning a lot about leadership every day up in Hartford and when I get a chance to go down to Washington, D.C., which is a pretty dysfunctional place these days.

“In your leadership positions, I think it is absolutely vital that you remain yourself. Don’t try to become someone who you are not. Lead by example. It’s important because people pay a close eye on leaders and their leadership style. If they see them stumbling or becoming someone that they’re really not, they lose confidence in that particular person. Stay true to yourself.”

The policymakers’ attentiveness

The policymakers’ attentiveness during Frantz’s talk, alas, does not herald a new era of cooperation and civility in Hartford or Washington. Not yet, at least. But they can use his counsel to quickly initiate on-campus changes.

Frantz’s address comprised the keynote speech at the Middle School Student Leadership Workshop at Greenwich Academy, which included eighth-grade student government leaders from Greenwich Academy and several other area schools: Brunswick School, Central Middle School, Eastern Middle School, Hackley School in Tarrytown, N.Y.; King school in Stamford; Rye Country Day School in Rye, N.Y.; St. Luke’s School in New Canaan; The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.; and The Stanwich School. Western Middle School was also invited, but its student government representatives were not able to attend.

The workshop was launched in 2009 by Rebecca Walker, Greenwich Academy’s head of middle school, and her husband, Bobby Walker, King’s head of middle school. King hosted the event in 2009 and 2010, before it moved over to Greenwich Academy in 2011. It was not held last year because of Superstorm Sandy.

“We really want them to talk about leadership — what makes a good leader, what’s challenging about it and how can you involve others and brainstorm with other kids,” Rebecca Walker said. “And what is also great is that the students go back to their schools with so many new ideas.”

After Frantz’s remarks, the students divided into multi-school groups, in which they discussed leadership qualities and their experiences as school leaders. The groups then shared highlights of their conversations in presentations to the other students.

Ashton Borcherding, Greenwich Academy’s middle school president, offered some organizational advice.

“If you don’t check email or don’t talk to teachers, you’re not going to know what’s going on, and it’s going to make things really chaotic,” she said.

Seeking other students’ input constituted an effective leadership approach, said Central Middle’s Juliana Salamone.

“It’s good to listen to what people have to say,” she said. “You can use it to help make your school a better place.”

In the second break-out session, the students reconvened within their school leadership teams to discuss their student governments’ structure, activities and goals. They then summarized those discussions in presentations to the other students.

“One thing we’re really proud of is something called the Fall Festival, where each advisory in the seventh to eighth grade comes up with a booth and the whole lower school, K-6, comes and they get tickets and have fun at the booths,” said Stanwich’s Jackson Boolbol. “And it all goes to a charity called Project Blessing, which is something we’ve supported over the years.”

Eastern Middle’s Henry Ellison identified more off-campus service initiatives as a priority.

“We really want to get involved with something where it’s face-to-face with people,” he said.

Brunswick’s Christian Hartch identified outreach to younger students as a top goal.

“We’d like to have more prominent representation of fifth- and sixth-graders within our student council,” he said. “This way, we`d get more ideas from the younger population.”

At the end of the workshop, Bobby Walker urged the students to continue their inter-school collaborations.

“The purpose of that was to come away with some very practical things you could bring back to your school,” he said. “And a lot of you were pointing out other things that other schools are doing. There are people who you can contact at those schools, so if there’s something your student body government really feels like it would like to implement, instead of reinventing it, ask someone else how they’ve done it already.”

The workshop could serve as a model for other initiatives involving local public and independent schools, said Molly King, Greenwich Academy’s head of school.

“It’s wonderful to validate middle-school voices,” she said. “These are kids who have self-identified as leaders and we want to support them. To have a public-private partnership bringing all of us together for our common goals of supporting kids means everything to Greenwich Academy.”

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