MY WORD: Testimonies teach Young Leaders

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By Duanne B. Puckett

Members of Young Leaders Institute experienced Education Day last month, when they visited Collins High School, Simpsonville Elementary, and Cornerstone Christian Academy.


At Collins they heard testimonies from students about how they are ready for the future because they have met or are on track to meet their BIG Goals. Josh Rice made it clear that “very unique opportunities in Shelby County Public Schools have helped me become college and career ready.” He named Student Technology Leadership Program, Technology Student Association and Project Lead The Way.

He started in STLP in the fourth grade, served as a state engineer his freshman year and interned with Microsoft, where he “worked with reps from Dell, HP, Apple, Adobe and others. It taught me how to interact with adults and customers; how to perfect presentation skills; and develop responsibility and initiative.”

He started with TSA his freshman year and has been school president for three years. PLTW engineering courses offered him “job-specific skills from using actual tools and several credits that will transfer to college.”

He advised the Young Leaders sophomores to take a challenging course load because, he said, “Through my skills gained in technology and my credentials, not only will I go to the University of Kentucky absolutely free, I’m getting paid over two thousand dollars a year to attend.”

Young Leader Claire Schaefer read a testimony by Sarah Eades who could not attend because she was attending the Kentucky Chapter of Sociedad Honoraria Hispanica (Spanish National Honor Society) state convention as historian.

She had been homeschooled until going to Collins her sophomore year, when the school opened in 2010. She had written, “Collins has given me the opportunity to be involved in so many activities that I couldn’t participate in through homeschooling,” such as volleyball, Beta Club, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Titan Nation, National Honor Society and Governor’s Scholars.

She said she considered her greatest involvement, however, as  being in the FFA chapter. She is chapter secretary but said she appreciates the skill of public speaking FFA has afforded her. She emphasized to the Young Leaders, “The ability to be both comfortable with speaking, as well as conveying your point, will take you very far in life….I understand it can be intimidating. Trust me, I’ve been there….If you believe in what you’re speaking about and have a passion that is evident, your audience will be appreciative.”

Sarah, through Claire’s reading, made it clear that even day-to-day communication is critical. “Scholarship interviews will force you to make eye contact and offer clear responses to their questions,” she said

It pays off. The 2012 state FFA Extemporaneous Impromptu Speech winner, she said the trophy was great, however, “None can measure to my ultimate speaking achievement: I have received a scholarship to Morehead State University that will pay for a hundred percent of my education, my housing, books and study abroad.”

Armando Luna’s story had many more hurdles. He called himself shy as an elementary student. Yet he was bigger than other kids, so he was picked on.

“It got worse in middle school. I didn’t hang out with the best group. Things were bad,” he told the Young Leaders. Bad turned to worse as he recalled an oral exchange that turned into a physical confrontation.

“It escalated and I lost it,” he said, remembering being charged with fourth-degree assault as a sixth-grader.

He was transferred to the Education Center @ Cropper, the district’s alternative school. He was comfortable there. “The classes were smaller. I thought it was easier. I thought they were more lenient,” he said. That is why he didn’t like going to Collins for his freshman year. “All the classes were hard. I hated it. I asked to go back to Cropper,” he said.

However, Cropper’s teachers knew Armando had more to offer, so they challenged him to again return to Collins. “I figured I might as well try. I might as well change. I might as well grow up,” he said with a slight grin.

He did. He accepted the challenges Collins offered, and he realized, he said, “Hey! I can do this!”

He wrote his Cropper teachers in January, telling them “I’ve gotten involved in many things I never thought I’d be able to…like I’m in National Honor Society; I applied for the Governor’s Scholars Program; I’m in drama productions; I sing in the choir; I finally got a class ring!”

He thanked the alternative school staff for “pushing me because you all had faith in me and thought this birdie could fly.”

Armando told the Young Leaders that he learned that “you have to push yourself. You can’t always depend on others. You must look over bullies. Remember, you’re better than they are.”


Duanne B. Puckett is public relations coordinator for Shelby County Public Schools