Leadership is not just for juniors and seniors
Posted May 23, 2012
Last school year, a small group of Saint Mary’s School adults met with a representative of North Carolina Outward Bound to wonder: how could Saint Mary’s School extend the outward bound experience beyond the time in the woods? The entire Saint Mary’s ninth grade class goes on outward bound each year during April’s COMPASS week. At first, many of the ninth graders are simply (and understandably) happy to get back to all the comforts of life and not at all interested in “extending their outward bound experience.” However, after several months have passed, which, on our calendar, means the start of the new school year, many value their time in April in a new, different way. They view the time as formative and informative to who they are.
The fact is, returning tenth graders are no longer adjusting to Saint Mary’s School, academically or socially. Many students are already leaders or are poised to become leaders both here at school and in their various communities to which they belong, and yet many of the school’s leadership opportunities are reserved for upper class students. In this space, to bridge that gap, I created the tenth grade outward bound leadership cohort—a group of students interested in exploring leadership more through the lens of outward bound.
In August 2011, faculty and advisors nominated returning tenth graders for this new opportunity. Out of the nominations, seven sophomores emerged to form the new outward bound leadership cohort, called the leadership cohort for short: Julia Bridgforth, Frances Cayton, Victoria Crook, Mary Stuart Fountain, Lindsey Nevitt, Rachel Schwitzgebel and Madeleine Wood. Over this past school year, these students have represented Saint Mary’s School at North Carolina Outward Bound functions. They’ve considered how their Myers-Briggs personality type impacts how they lead, both individually and as a group. They’ve even completed the UNC-Chapel Hill Challenge Course with UNC students, using the experience to reflect on the lessons learned at outward bound.
These activities were so valuable and yet I haven’t even mentioned what the group spent most of their time doing. The leadership cohort focused primarily on preparing others for their own outward bound trips. The sophomores reached out to Saint Mary’s School ninth graders before COMPASS week, offering them tips about what to bring, how to get the most out of the experience, even helping with shopping. The leadership cohort also reached outside of our gates to Exploris Middle School, a Raleigh charter school less than half a mile down Hillsborough Street. Exploris takes its entire eighth grade class on an outward bound trip each year in late April. For the 2011-2012 school year, Saint Mary’s School and Exploris partnered during “Fitness Fridays,” a time set aside for the middle school students to exercise. Saint Mary’s School provided our gym and athletic fields, neither of which the Exploris campus has, but even more importantly the expertise, time and knowledge of leadership cohort. These seven sophomores created fun and challenging circuits several times a month to get ready for the physical challenge of outward bound.
Frances Cayton said, “I had a blast planning and leading everything from circuits to zumba classes with my peers. I learned how each of our individual personality types affect our leadership styles and how these styles translate to our weekly Exploris activity. The cohort experience taught me how collaboration is a vital part of the creative process and leadership. Through close interaction with the other cohorts, we created a program that was both beneficial, meaningful and enjoyable."
As the group’s advisor, once I realized the great extent to which this particular group of students could function without me, I stepped back and just them go. The student leadership cohort decided together what they wanted to do with the middle school students each time—what they wanted the circuits to be, who would be paired with whom, what music they might use, how they wanted to make breaking in boots fun. The truth is, Julia, Frances, Victoria, Mary Stuart, Lindsey, Rachel and Maddie were all leaders in their own unique ways before they completed the leadership cohort. My hope is that their experience this past year has, among other things, led them to reflect on the role of service and leadership and the multitude of ways leadership can manifest itself.
The Reverend Ann Bonner-Stewart
Advisor, North Carolina Outward Bound Leadership Cohort