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Learning to lead: Hamilton students pay it forward with leadership training
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Learning to lead: Hamilton students pay it forward with leadership training

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A Hamilton Middle School partnership with Trapper Creek Job Corps held leadership training for seventh and eighth grade students on Monday.

Angela Dondero, school counselor, said the Students United to Mentor Model Inspire and Teach (SUMMIT) program works.

“The leadership program has to do with a pay-it-forward initiative,” Dondero said. “This is the third year for the middle school to participate but the first year with the pay-it-forward initiative – where eighth grade students teach seventh grade students. The SUMMIT leadership students at Trapper Creek Job Corps are paying-it-forward to the middle school students.”

Dondero said the idea is to change the school culture because middle school can be tough.

“There’s a lot of fitting in and figuring out for the first time that people are judging you for the way you look, the way you sound, and what clothes you wear,” she said. “Incorporating that in with the Olweus Bullying Program we decided to teach kids about self-awareness, self-regulation, positive collaborative problem solving, and positive effective communication.”

Trapper Creek Job Corps student leaders served as the main facilitators. Hamilton eighth grade students who have gone through beginning, intermediate and advanced training facilitated the small group exercises. Middle school students in seventh grade received a look at leadership and began learning how to be a leader.

The seventh grade students were welcomed with cheers down a long line of encouragers paying-it-forward. All the participants joined an energizing activity, a “no-doze activity” that helped students recognize their actual leadership style, and then did small-group problem-solving activities. Eighth grade students showed their leadership training by facilitating the small groups.

Trapper Creek program organizers Salvador Ochoa, vocational development specialist, and Evan Gimpel, counselor, encouraged the students in the small group activities.

“These are purposely designed to frustrate kids so they learn when to ask for help, when to monitor their tone of voice and regulate how they speak to one another,” Gimpel said. “The students are learning how to get everyone to work together in a positive way without getting frustrated.”

Dondero said facilitating stretches the eighth grade students.

“These students have gone through the training but it’s different to be a participant in a program than being a facilitator,” she said. “They have had to learn to take a step back and rather than jump in say ‘hey, I see you guys are struggling right now, do you want a strategy?’”

Dondero said changing a culture takes time and students are benefitting.

“When you implement things like this and like the Olweus program it is a long-term change,” she said. “Bullying isn’t going to be eradicated but over time we’ll see change.”

Trapper Creek mentor Quannah Tunis said the goal is to pay-it-forward so it can continue to the next generation.

“We’ll eventually build up a culture of leaders that will progress through high school and succeed through life easier than they would without these skills,” Tunis said. “We want them to be able to lead by example and be the students that are showing up on time to school and helping others when they are having a hard time. We are here to get them involved rather than letting life pass them by.”

Trapper Creek mentor Karina Herrera said they came to teach confidence, initiative and communication skills.

Eighth grade leadership student Kayl Wanner said the training has helped his self-image.

“Before I was in leadership I could not talk to anybody without sweating bullets,” Wanner said. “With this now I can talk in large groups and do presentations without being nervous. I feel good about myself.”

Wanner said the key for him was his participation at the ropes course at Trapper Creek Job Corps.

“I had to communicate with the person on the other side and I thought if I can communicate with them for a simple reason I can communicate with a bunch of people for simple or hard reasons,” Wanner said. “This program can help students make friends, have more interactions, and create a school with no bullies. I see a lot of good in passing it on.”

Eighth grade leadership student Abby Kravik said the best part of the leadership training was personal application.

“Everyone has individual qualities that make good leaders but this teaches how to use those qualities,” Kravik said. “I feel that everyone has a leader inside of them and it’s really important to learn how to become a leader. In life we need to know how to lead in some way.”

Kravik said she realized she had potential in a small group exercise.

“I just jumped in and started leading the group,” she said. “It was a surprise because normally I’m really quiet. I have ideas but just keep them in my head. So this was a surprise to me that I took the lead.”

Seventh grade student Ellie Lint said she sees the growth.

“It seems like they’re trying to have us step out of our comfort zone and teaching us how to get along,” she said. “I’m usually a quiet person and an analyst. I usually do not tell people my decisions but I do have good ideas. I just don’t like to talk a lot.”

Seventh grade student Sal Ochoa said he enjoyed the training.

“It’s really fun and it teaches new things about who you are and they have us doing team building exercises to learn how to work together,” he said.

School counselor Dondero said she is impressed that this program is accomplished with all volunteer hours from the leadership and summit participants to the middle school students.

“The students see the value and are willing to give up their free time,” she said. “This leadership program makes a huge impact on lives.”

The leadership program was funded by Trapper Creek Job Corps sand Graduation Matters grant funds.

Reach reporter Michelle McConnaha at 363-3300 or michelle.mcconnaha@ravallirepublic.com.

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