RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
Twenty students from Randolph Elementary School last week discovered they have what it takes to be leaders.
In the process they also laid the groundwork for making their school better.
Participants in a two-day program called Leaders for the Future, the fourth- and fifth-graders explored the qualities of leadership and teamwork as well as the characteristics of great schools and created projects to improve their school. Each student had opportunities to speak as they unveiled their findings and projects in a presentation the afternoon of Sept. 21.
"All I did was get lucky enough to be principal here," Principal Karen Bessette told the students after their presentation. "I loved your ideas. I love your servants' heart, your willingness to give of your time and energy to others and I think all of your ideas are great. I can't wait to hear more about them and to see how we can support them."
The school was chosen for a $6,500 service-learning grant from State Farm Insurance after Ms. Bessette and Jay Bonstingl, a Maryland-based education consultant, submitted a proposal with his Leaders for the Future program as its centerpiece.
Mr. Bonstingl has conducted the program throughout the United States and in other countries for 14 years. Billed as a "leadership development and service-learning opportunity for students who are not yet the stars of their schools, but who could be," the program engages students in their school and in the learning process, giving them an opportunity to lead and create something original.
"These kids are learning something about themselves they didn't know before," Mr. Bonstingl said. "They're leaders. They're convinced they can do anything - and they can."
The students divided into four teams, then chose names, mottos and jingles before delving into leadership qualities; discussing what is always - and never -- seen, heard and felt at a school of quality; outlining the attributes of their school; and brainstorming ways to improve their school. Teachers Cheryl Deegan, Heather Jost, Linda Heier and Jennifer Adams assisted the teams.
During the presentation on the second day of the program, the students shared their projects, which they will carry out in the next few weeks. Two teams, the Tigers and the Fourth-Grade Fireballs, chose projects that will make special-needs children feel more welcome. Team Enthusiasm, with an aim of making "a difference in the lives of our local heroes by making them feel appreciated," will seek donations of homemade cookies to give to service-oriented personnel at Randolph such as police officers, firefighters and clinic workers. The Roadrunners will recognize the contributions of custodians, special-needs aides and cafeteria workers with a special Web page on the Randolph Field Independent School District Web site and through announcements on the school's public-address system and posters in the hallways.
Amelia Folkes, a State Farm community and media relations specialist from Austin, commended the students following their presentation.
"You probably don't realize that all of you really displayed great leadership skills and presentation skills," she told them. "And those are skills you're going to need when you go look for a job, when you go to college. That is service learning, right there."
Autumn Jones, a fourth-grader who belongs to Team Enthusiasm, said she benefited from the program.
"I learned that I can be a better leader than I am now," she said. "I have a few problems, but I'm working on that."
Autumn said she also enjoyed working with students from other classes.
One of her teammates, Reggie Lane, another fourth-grader, said a leader should begin the day with a healthy breakfast and a good night's sleep and be prepared to make the right choices.
Mr. Bonstingl said leadership is necessary at all levels so people don't adopt a "victim mindset." The program allows students to "develop their God-given leadership abilities, which every child has, and create a project to make a great school even better."
"When we see kids engaged, we see them zooming, becoming quite good academically," he said. "We see that time and time again. They turn out to be very, very special."
Mr. Bonstingl saw something very special in the Randolph students who participated in the program, which he attributed to the military community and to Ms. Bessette and her staff.
"I've done this program all over the world, but I've never enjoyed being with a group more," he said. "They are the kindest, most considerate, most creative kids I've ever worked with. They have the best sense of community of any kids I've ever worked with."