August 15, 2008
Kazoo chorus trumpets leadership
20 area high school students learn art of being a leader at weeklong seminar
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Chris Yamamoto of Cortland waits to see if a totem giraffe will stay balanced at the Center for the Arts in Homer Thursday. The pieces of the totem animal were built by two different LEAD leadership camp groups in separate rooms and then brought together to see if the pieces would fit and resemble a giraffe.
The kazoo chorus started up, and soon every student in the room was blaring Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”
That’s one way to catch everyone’s attention.
“It’s kind of intense,” said Katie Strausser of Homer, one of the founding members and organizers of LEAD, or Leaders Educate and Demonstrate.
The program, which helps high school-age students develop leadership skills, is now in its third year and has gotten to the point where it is nearly self-sustaining.
Each day over the past week, more than 20 area students have met at the Center for the Arts in Homer, donned their uniform T-shirts and kazoos — on a string around their necks — and got to work solving problems in scenarios developed by their peer advisors and adult advisors.
Strausser and her mother, Pam Strausser, held the pilot program in 2006 when it was called the Summer Leadership program. The next year, it became LEAD.
Pam Strausser is a consultant for Cornell University in the area of organizational development who primarily works with academic leadership and runs a consulting firm, Cosmos Hill Associates. She consults on leadership issues in business and industry sectors across the globe.
Originally, much of the pilot program was based on the same methods Strausser used with much older students.
Now, 12 of the program’s graduates are leading the majority of the activities and developing some of their own. Pam Strausser and her fellow adult advisor, Kim Allen, have not had to direct nearly as much of the program as they have in the past.
The peer advisors actually keep track of several students each, monitoring their participation in the activities and following their progress throughout the week.
The peer advisors are going through what amounts to LEAD’s graduate program, agreed peer advisors Katie Dries, 17, and Mairead Kiernan, 18. They both participated last year.
“I like leading it better,” Kiernan said. “This is what we were training for.”
At the beginning of the week, each participant conducted a personality self-assessment, learning where his or her own personality fit on a continuum.
Dries said the peer advisors even reevaluated where they had originally thought they came in on the personality scale, especially after watching students who at first seemed to match their own personalities.
Alex Pizzola, 16, who participated in the pilot program, said the annual workshop has helped the peer advisors “grow into” themselves.
And as they’ve grown, the program has also grown. Now, much of the material used throughout the week has been copyrighted in the names of the one-time students/peer advisors.
Pam Strausser said the materials used in the course would be sold at both the Center for the Arts and the Cortland County YMCA, which has co-sponsored the event.
The program has caught the attention of state Sen. James Seward (R-Milford), who has said he would work to promote the program throughout the state.
On Thursday, the students built a giraffe out of cardboard, newspapers and other random materials. Called a totem — the program incorporates elements of Native American culture related to group harmony — the students split into two groups, one to construct the head and neck and the other to put together the body and legs. While working in two separate rooms, Katie Strausser said the two quietest youths in each group met throughout the process to discuss progress and dimensions and ways to make the two halves one.
Other activities included more negotiation, such as when two groups were given two sides of the same situation and were directed to find the common ground and present a workable solution.
Another asked small groups of students how to help out a hypothetical family reduce its weekly production of trash. Some of the suggestions were practical and others were just plain off-the-wall.
But Pam Strausser told the students to include every idea they had come up with when presenting their finished product to the class. Not only is it a lot more fun, but learning how to stop self-editing builds confidence and allows ideas that might be outside-the-box some room for development.
Right before the end of that day’s session, the students tried to pass a helium balloon to one another with just their feet — and then they tried without using their feet or hands. Fun, yes. But it also took some joint maneuvering and cooperation.
Chris Yamamoto, 17, is a senior at Cortland High School and was leaving early with his classmates David O’Neil, 17, and Brett Snyder, 17. They were heading to a lock-in for the high school’s student government.
Snyder said he learned how to deal with different personalities and how to work together.
“I learned how to better resolve disputes, without fighting,” O’Neil said. “And calmly.”
Yamamoto said he had improved his public speaking skills just over the course of the week and has developed more confidence. He said he would “highly recommend” the program to his uninitiated friends.
All three said they hoped to participate as peer advisors next year.
“It’s a great way to spend the last part of your summer,” O’Neil said.
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