May 1, 2013
Students learn leadership
CORTLANDVILLE — Sidney Ladd beamed as she recounted the way the Cortland County Youth Leadership program had boosted her confidence and piqued her social conscience, following a graduation ceremony Tuesday.
“It’s definitely taught me to help the community,” said Ladd, 17, of DeRuyter Central School, as she cleared brush from around a white pine at Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture in Cortlandville after graduating. “It’s part of our everyday lives, so it’s better to help than to just let it go downhill.”
That’s the type of attitude the program aimed to foster in the 36 graduates, all students from county schools.
As part of the program sponsored by Cortland Area Communities That Care, Cortland Community Foundation and the Walmart Foundation, students with little experience taking charge of other people worked on different skills to help them be leaders in several seminars throughout the year.
In one seminar, students learned to improve their communication skills by interviewing seniors at the David Harum Senior Center in Homer and then introducing that person to the group, said Michele Whalen, a member of the advisory board.
“Those are the kinds of things that I think instill leadership skills in them,” said Whalen, of Cortland Area Communities That Care.
Students also visited Cortland Regional Medical Center to learn about problem solving and the Cortland County 911 Center in the county Public Safety Building at 54 Greenbush St. to learn about decision making.
Other field trips brought the teens to the Cortland County Legislature, SUNY Cortland and the Cortland County Courthouse.
“I think it definitely helped me be more confident as a leader,” said John Osterhoudt, 17, of Homer, as he took a break from tackling brush with the other graduated leaders at the nature center.
Before attending the program, Osterhoudt was afraid that he would be judged if he expressed his ideas, but now he thinks he will be more confident with his peers, especially during group projects, said Osterhoudt, a junior.
“I was always really shy before, but now I’m not afraid to talk to anyone,” said Ladd, also a junior.
Because the students are chosen to be leaders by school staff, they start to think of themselves as leaders, said Michelle Walker, a Marathon guidance counselor and program advisor. “They would never have thought of themselves like that before,” Walker said.
The leadership program was founded 10 years ago after Judi Riley, assistant superintendent for pupil and personnel services for Cortland schools, and Machell Phelps, executive director of the Cortland Regional Sports Council, graduated from Leadership Cortland, Phelps said.
That program, sponsored by Tompkins Cortland Community College and the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce, provides leadership training for adults through seminars, and Riley and Phelps thought that students could benefit from a similar program, Phelps said.
Students selected for Cortland County Youth Leadership are students in good standing, but have not yet taken on a leadership role, she said.
Thirty-six students from Cincinnatus, Cortland Alternative High School, Cortland, DeRuyter, Homer, Marathon and McGraw participated in the program.
The youth leadership program is a great opportunity to get the students out of the classroom and learning in real-world environments, said Joe Cortese, a Homer High School social studies teacher and program advisor.
It also gets the students working together outside of the classroom with other students that they like or know and students that they do not like or know, just like in the workplace, said Paul Drexler, a Cortland High School math teacher and advisor.
“You can’t just get your class switched in the real world,” Drexler said. “It’s a nice, noncompetitive mingling of the schools.”
Getting out of school and around other students from different districts also decreases negative peer pressure and the students are more likely to try new things, he said.
“Each year kids are excited to go,” said Maureen Alger, a guidance counselor at DeRuyter and an advisor. “They’re just enthusiastic about it.”
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