“As a leader, you are defined by your character,” says Tucker Presley, a high school junior from Mobile, Ala. This pearl of wisdom was the main take-away from Presley’s week at the inaugural Presidential Leadership Institute, hosted by York College, July 13-19.
Twenty-seven high school students grades 10-12 from four states visited campus for the weeklong course in character-driven leadership. Faculty members from York College collaborated with experts Nathan Mellor and Beau Bailey of Strata Leadership to teach these high potential juniors and seniors about positive Christian leadership.
The program was offered to schools in the National Christian School Association. Each school participating sent a delegation of students who would address a specific challenge facing their school. The students learned about leadership through lectures and activities, then put the information to work as they spent the week creating plans to address their school’s needs.
“The Presidential Leadership Institute was a ton of fun,” says Cape Monn, a junior from Eustis, Fla., “but that wasn’t the goal. We focused in-depth on leadership skills and the betterment of ourselves and others through our actions.”
The curriculum’s focus on servant leadership was thought provoking for Monn. “It caused me to think a lot about the way I come across to others. How do I make people feel? Am I helping them or hurting them? … Without helping others, I couldn’t be a leader.”
Monn attends Mount Dora Bible School with fellow PLI attendee Christina Delahoz. The pair has created a plan for improvement for the school’s Buddy Program, which pairs sixth and twelfth graders for a mentoring relationship. Monn and Delahoz will focus on increasing engagement and intentionality between the two groups and expanding it from a one-year to a two-year program.
Monn says the highlight of her week was the afternoon of service PLI students gave at York College. The institute coincided with York College’s annual Alumni and Friends Workdays, which draws volunteers to campus to help with beautification projects ahead of the start of the school year. PLI students raked, mulched, and helped with other campus maintenance for several hours. “I loved working alongside my peers,” says Monn. “We had a lot of fun making the campus even more beautiful.”
PLI participants came from Texas, Missouri, Alabama, and Florida. Part of the week’s curriculum included two political field trips, with an emphasis on Midwestern values. The students visited the Nebraska state capitol building, where they met with the Speaker of the Unicameral, Senator Greg Adams. They ended their visit to Lincoln with lunch at the Governor’s mansion and a visit with Governor Dave Heineman.
PLI students tour the Eisenhower Presidential Library with Mary Eisenhower.
Later in the week, the group traveled to Abilene, Kans., to visit the Eisenhower Presidential Museum and Library. York College faculty members Christi Lones and Tim McNeese taught students about the life and times of President Eisenhower before receiving a VIP tour of the museum from Mary Eisenhower, granddaughter of the president. Ms. Eisenhower spent six hours with the students, bringing history to life as she recounted memories of the president and first lady.
The week’s instruction was valuable to the students from Prattville Christian Academy in Prattville, Ala., says President Ron Mitchell. “The institute gave my very best students an opportunity that I haven’t seen anywhere else in my 11 years in Christian education. The activities and the speakers were absolutely first-class…My students came back with really good ideas about leadership and how they can serve.”
“Strata Leadership was an outstanding partner in the institute. They were instrumental in the quality of the week,” adds Mitchell. Strata Leadership, LLC, is the world's largest character-based leadership company. Based in Edmond, Okla., CEO Nathan Mellor worked closely with York College President Steve Eckman on the creation of the Presidential Leadership Institute.
Kevin Claypool, vice president for development at Brentwood Christian School in Austin, Texas, agreed that the week was of great benefit to the Brentwood students that attended. “The value for our students was that they got the experience of taking a real life scenario and applying an academic process to the problem, then planning implementation,” he says.
The problem addressed by both the Brentwood and Prattville students involved breaking down barriers to community and increasing school spirit and unity throughout all class year divisions and activities. Claypool says the Brentwood students used John Kotter’s “Eight Steps for Leading Change” model to create a comprehensive plan for addressing the challenge.
“The students learned how to build bridges and develop positive solutions,” says Claypool. “More importantly, they expanded their scope of comfort. They traveled to a place they’d never been and worked with people they’d never met. Throughout the week they were able to create a real sense of community.”
For more information on the Presidential Leadership Institute, please visit http://presidentialleadershipinstitute.com/.
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