Student Leadership Team gears up

Andrew McPeak of Growing Leaders makes the point with members of the Jackson County Student Leadership Team that leaders “are intentional about relationships,” and take the initiative.

Andrew McPeak of Growing Leaders makes the point with members of the Jackson County Student Leadership Team that leaders “are intentional about relationships,” and take the initiative.

As Jackson County School System students settle into the new school year, the district’s Student Leadership Team also is preparing for the year ahead.

The two-year leadership development experience involves high school juniors and seniors and began last year with 21 eleventh-graders. Those students — now rising seniors — will be joined by 20 rising juniors when sessions begin again this Sept. 3.

Cheryl Poponi, left, who leads special projects for the Jackson County School System, talks with student leadership team member Brianna Pearson, whose leadership initiative involved a program where students take more responsibility for their learning while working alongside their teachers.

Cheryl Poponi, left, who leads special projects for the Jackson County School System, talks with student leadership team member Brianna Pearson, whose leadership initiative involved a program where students take more responsibility for their learning while working alongside their teachers.

Led by Cheryl Poponi, who coordinates special projects for JCSS, the program works to “elevate students leaders who enhance the function of leadership throughout their local schools by shaping culture and performance.”

Interested students go through a rigorous selection process that requires them to identify a student leadership initiative they would like to see implemented in their school/community, provide a teacher recommendation that focuses on communication and leadership skills, describes themselves and their interests and explains their reasons for wanting to join the student leadership team, and details their current activities and leadership positions.

The curriculum is provided by Growing Leaders, a global nonprofit organization that encourages and equips young adults to take on real-life opportunities and challenges in the classroom and the community, Poponi said.

“Habitudes: Images that Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes,” a book by Tim Elder, was a frequent reference point.

Lessons are taught using real stories, intriguing images, and engaging experiences that are relatable and memorable, Poponi explained. The two-year sequence helps students focus on leading themselves and leading others.

Haley Harrison, right, makes a point during a small group activity, talking with Cassie Jones.

Haley Harrison, right, makes a point during a small group activity, talking with Cassie Jones.

An emphasis on connecting with one another and being present in personal interactions in all aspects of their lives was part of each of the all-day sessions, which were held at Bank OZK in Jefferson.

“I promise you, the stories you tell in the future about your successes will have to do with the connections you make,” Andrew McPeak, with Growing Leaders, told the group, and guest speakers at each meeting brought that point home.

The team meets four times a year as a whole group and weekly with their respective school leadership teams at East Jackson and Jackson County comprehensive high schools. At EJCHS, Denise Backus served as leadership coach last year, and Shon Wilson will take the lead for 2019-2020; at JCCHS, it is Kendra Phillips.

Members from the Class of 2020 include DeAndre Anderson, Sydney Ardis, Montgomery Garland, Emily Giles, Daniel Greene, Grant Hardegree, Haley Harrison, Cassie Jones, Kaycie Malcolm, Haley McMenomy, Brianna Pearson, Noel Plunkett, Nya Rivera, Olivia Swinson, Bryan Umana, Savannah Van Buren, Ashtyn Vickers, Riley Walker, Ashley Xiong, Kevin Yang, and Kylee Zimmer.

Sydney Ardis, left, and DeAndre Anderson work through an exercise that had them trying to ask meaningful questions to determine the other person’s assigned occupation.

Sydney Ardis, left, and DeAndre Anderson work through an exercise that had them trying to ask meaningful questions to determine the other person’s assigned occupation.

Members from the Class of 2021 include Kendall Ashe, Charlie Brooksher, Griffin Cobb, Gracen Dutton, Lindsey Fowler, Jackson Fuller, Ayden Griswold, Ebony Hunter, Hayden Hutchison, Jake Johnson, Sheena Lim, Jett Lopez, Camryn Martin, Nate McKinney, Madison Miller, Emily Russell, Jake Stinchcomb, Tyler Vaughn, Lindsay Weinmann, and Kedric Zimmer.

The program’s board of directors includes Joe Hicks of Jackson EMC; Jackson County Sheriff Janis Mangum; Kathy Wilbanks, local Realtor and former chair of the Jackson County Board of Education; and JCSS leaders Dr. April Howard, superintendent of schools, and Dr. Selena Blankenship, human resources director. Wilbanks and Howard also serve on the Empower College & Career Center board.