Leading the way to leadership

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A Leadership Shelby graduating class is providing eighth-graders with a chance to find those characteristics within themselves.

By Todd Martin

Each year the graduating class of Leadership Shelby is charged with creating a service project to give back to the community, and this year’s class wanted one that would last.

And its project idea will last well beyond the actual low-ropes course the group has constructed at Clear Creek Park because it is using that course to create a leadership program for all eighth-grade students in the county, including private- and home-schooled students, which will be held this Saturday.

“Those kids are going to grow up, and we’re building the future leaders for our community,” said Derrick Griffitts, the project leader for the 2013 Leadership Shelby class. “As we were going through this course, we kept thinking how great it would be to bring this to younger level. We became such a cohesive unit as the class wore on. How great will it be to see that happen with a young group of kids?”

Lisa Smith, a member of the class who is also the deputy superintendent and chief academic officer for Shelby County Public Schools, said the idea just evolved.

“As we worked and started brainstorming, we started to have some really good conversations,” she said. “What we started to come up with was we wanted something that would help foster leadership in kids because every one of them has those gifts and abilities.”

As the group completed their its graduation on the high ropes course at Asbury College, the idea fell into place.

“Eighth grade is just such a transition year for children,” Smith said. “If we can help them identify these characteristics in themselves, that will help them lay their foundation for high school. Our big objective is for each child to be able to understand, identify and demonstrate traits and characteristics of leadership.”

Having three members from Shelby County Public Schools helped the group foster the idea, but it was a team effort putting the course together.

“Since the middle of June, we’ve been working together collectively, utilizing the different skills we all bring to the table,” Griffitts said. “We found out through the course that we all fit together a different way, and to be able to pull something like this off it had to be a total team effort.”

The group built a 12-station- low-ropes course near the softball fields at the park and will man the stations from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. for eighth-graders to work in teams and complete each station.

The students, nearly 50 of whom have signed up to attend, will work through the obstacles in teams of eight to 10 with about 20 minutes for each station.

A few of the obstacles are:

  • Connection – Each member of the group must pass from one large platform to another small platform using the two provided boards. All members must be on a platform at all times. No jumping.
  • Ring Tower – Working in unison, the group removes the giant ring from a giant tower.
  • Hole in the Sky – Each team member must pass through a tire suspended in the air. Team members can only help those on their side.
  • Lean on Me – Two teammates at a time must begin at the narrow end of the obstacle and support each other until exiting off the wide end.

Smith said the outpouring of support from her Leadership Shelby class and others in the community has been wonderful.

“Atmos Energy, where Bernie Anderson [a classmate] works, is bringing grills to cook out and providing the food for the day, and the [school] district, along with other sponsors, has provided T-shirts for the students,” Smith said. “And we put together these badges for them.”

The ID badges, with each student’s photo, have the phrase YOLO 2013, but it’s with a twist.

“That’s a phrase the students can identify with, but it’s not ‘You Only Live Once,’” Smith said.

On the back is printed Your Own Leadership Opportunity, a phrase Smith credited to fellow classmate Rachel Webb.

“We wanted to make sure each student had something to take home with them, something that would help them remember what the day was all about,” she said. “Of course, every eighth-grader wants a T-shirt, but this badge is something that can remind them of the day as well.”

Smith and Griffitts both said they hope this project can continue for years.

“It’s our intent for it to continue to grow once the students learn more about it,” Smith said.

Although the obstacles will highlight the day, Smith said a couple of high school seniors would speak to the eighth-graders to cap the afternoon.

“Ryan Ruff [Collins] and Ben Bohannon [SCHS] both jumped out in my mind as wonderful leaders,” Smith said. “So those two seniors will speak to the students at the end of the day. I think, as leaders, they are both wonderful role models that our younger students can really look up to.”