Seven freshmen walked in a line, balloons pressed against one another. They failed the first attempt — some balloons dropped. Their second try was a success — they walked about 25 yards without dropping a balloon.
The lesson: teamwork requires trust and communication.
The leadership program at St. Mary’s High School provides opportunities for students with leadership potential to develop, refine and practice their skills and learn how to effect change in their school and community. They minister to the St. Mary’s community through acts of servant leadership. They work as a team to plan school activities and events that engage students, build brotherhood and increase Marianist spirit.
Solomon Spruiel, a senior, began in the program his sophomore year. One of his teachers reached out to him to encourage him to take part. “You can learn new skills in the class and outside the class,” Spruiel said. “We get to lead the school and our individual classes. ”
He helped with high school nights this year. “My confidence built (three-fold) because of preparing for and speaking in front of other people,” he said.
Katie Albin, dean of student activities and moderator of the program, defined servant leadership for the students. It means being a servant first, putting others’ needs as the highest priority, and sharing power, she said. Servant-leaders build trust and everyone has equal importance, Albin explained.
The class discussed examples of servant-leaders, including the ultimate servant-leader, Jesus.
Spruiel said the program helped with his faith life. Leading “is bringing me closer to God, helping me follow in Jesus’ footsteps,” he said.
The freshmen participate in a monthly leadership seminar during their academic lab period from January through May and assist with events at the school as needed during that time frame. Sophomores gather 10 times at the end of the school day. Juniors and seniors are in an elective class.
Albin said the students are required to apply because it shows their commitment. Students can apply any year. Faculty members sometimes urge students to apply who they see have potential.
Campus ministry is a partner with the program, and the leadership program students often are leaders of the school’s retreats. Leadership students take part in the student reflection at the beginning of all-school Masses, talking about their faith and relating it to the readings that day. “It’s a combination of real-life experiences, faith experiences and the skills that accompany leadership,” Albin said.
Marianist Heritage Week, school assemblies, the annual dodgeball tournament, a three-on-three basketball tournament, town hall meetings and more are organized by the student leaders. Senior leaders plan Spirit Week, They’re on the student executive board (similar to a student council) meeting with school administrators. Members of the leadership class also meet with the administration on the school’s strengths and weaknesses, providing input on areas of improvement.
“It gives them a voice, a real productive avenue to see some changes,” said Valerie Todd, St. Mary’s principal.
Todd explained that the program has a diversity of student personalities. “The best leaders sometimes are students who have a lot of social currency. It also helps bring out skills they’re weak in and can grow in.”
The students have control of the events they plan, with the understanding that they learn from failures as well as successes.
Cameron Duncan, a junior, started in the program his freshman year. He had experience in leadership with the Carondelet YMCA where he is president of the teens’ leadership club.
St. Mary’s program fits right into his passion to help others, he said. “I like to see other people happy. When I don’t see that, I can feel their pain, the things they’re going through. I don’t want to feel that so I like to help them the best way I can. I make their problems my problems,” Duncan said.
He especially enjoyed an overnight leadership retreat he attended. He learned a lot about fellow students and the problems they faced. “I was able to talk to them and relate to them. It made us more comfortable with each other,” he said.
Cody Cornell, a junior who’s been in the program since freshman year, said he appreciates learning that “we may be the leaders of the school but we’re just as equal as anybody else. We work with the student body, we’re not working for them. That’s really cool.”
He enjoys forming friendships through the program. “Through those friendships, you see God in one another,” Cornell said.
Leadership in college
St. Mary’s High School graduates take their leadership skills with them as they enter college. Some examples:
• Ben Kurkowski
joined the leadership program at St. Mary’s because he wanted to be a
part of the school’s “awesome family atmosphere” and to help the school
become even better.
Now a freshman at Harris-Stowe State
University in St. Louis, Kurkowski said the leadership program helped
him learn communications skills and how to work with others. “It’s
helped me in college to be pro-active, meet new people, take charge and
set my own path,” he said.
Taking a leadership role in planning
and implementing school programs at St. Mary’s put him a step ahead of
his peers from other high schools, Kurkowski said.
• Gerardo Lopez
a freshman studying civil and architectural engineering at Missouri
S&T University in Rolla, said the program at St. Mary’s helped him
impact student life at the school. And it’s helped him in college become
comfortable in leadership roles.
“It was beneficial to be a voice
for other students. It’s helped me have a voice in college as well, and
to adapt and be ready for any position that comes my way,” Lopez said.
was voted vice president of the club volleyball team at the university.
He tries to take others’ input and accommodate others’ needs. In class,
he said, “we’re always working with other people, and it’s easy for me
to communicate with them now.”