Developing leaders who embrace Christian principles and lead through service is one of the core missions of Catholic schools, said Dr. Erin Barisano, Superintendent of Catholic Schools at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange.
THROUGH A PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN THE DIOCESE OF ORANGE AND THE ASSOCIATION OF CATHOLIC STUDENT COUNCILS, STUDENT LEADERSHIP DAYS ARE ONE-DAY PROGRAMS IN WHICH HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS IMPART LEADERSHIP ATTRIBUTES TO MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS THROUGH WORKSHOPS AND TEAM-BUILDING ACTIVITIES.
That’s where Student Leadership Days come in.
Through a partnership between the Diocese of Orange and The Association of Catholic Student Councils (TACSC), Student Leadership Days are one-day programs in which high school students impart leadership attributes to middle school students through workshops and team building activities mostly developed by the high schoolers themselves.
YAMILETH GUZMAN OF ROSARY ACADEMY ADDRESSES PARTICIPANTS OF A STUDENT LEADERSHIP DAY HELD ON MARCH 13.
The idea is for both groups to grow into better leaders through the process.
On March 13, Rosary Academy in Fullerton hosted a Student Leadership Day, with Rosary students partnering with Servite High School students to teach leadership skills to 115 middle schoolers from diocesan schools.
With teachers and administrators taking on more of a behind-the-scenes role, the high schoolers, called “staff members,” developed and led the day’s activities, teaching leadership skills to middle schoolers through role playing, games and other interactive activities. In this setting, the high schoolers teach concepts that include conflict management, group dynamics, life balance, planning and diversity.
“Leadership is such an important part of what we do in Catholic Schools,” Dr. Barisano said. “It is really teaching our kids leadership skills. One of the things that is really unique and special about this particular program is the role that our high school students play, in exhibiting their leadership abilities to train our younger kids, and it really is that whole K-12 program that we are building.”
TACSC instructors begin meeting with high school students in the fall to begin training on the curriculum.
The high school students develop their own method for teaching the middle schoolers, using concepts relatable to both groups as a conduit, such as sports, social media and pop culture, for example.
The lesson plans are then presented to TACSC for approval.
“It is a two-way street when a high school student has younger students hanging on their every word and looking at them adoringly, that validates you,” said Heidi Johnson, executive director of TACSC. “That fills your soul. That fills your cup. That is what happens to the high school students on a multitude of levels when they volunteer with TACSC.”
For the middle schooler who may sometimes feel awkward and insecure, having a high school student offering encouragement and compliments can boost self-esteem, Johnson explained.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” she said. “It is so simple, but it is so powerful, and then they learn from each other because they speak the same language. At the end of the day, when the high school students ask the middle school students about what they learned, the middle school students have absorbed everything they were taught. Sometimes the messenger is as important as the message.”
Students are taught that leading and serving go hand in hand, Johnson said, and that service is integral to leadership.
“Real leaders don’t set out to be in charge,” she said. “They set out to serve. That is really what I want everyone take away from today.”
The TACSC was formed 40 years ago as Catholic youth leadership summer program designed to train six member student councils at Catholic schools.
Then about 10 years ago, TACSC began operating under the philosophy that all students have the potential to be leaders, not just the six members of a student council, Johnson said.
So, for the past decade, TACSC has worked with five dioceses in the state, encompassing 150 elementary schools and 31 Catholic high school partners.
TACSC holds an annual summer conference – a greatly expanded version of Student Leadership Days where a staff of trained high school and college students teach middle schoolers, fostering qualities such as goal setting, time management, communication and public speaking.
Rosary freshman Delilah Moos, a student staff member for the Student Leadership Day, first attended a TACSC summer conference on the recommendation of a teacher.
Moos aspires to become a teacher herself and said being involved with TACSC has been a rewarding experience.
“I love working with kids,” Moos said. “I like the Catholic aspect. I like the spread of love. I’ve learned how people work together.”
Megan Runnells, sixth grade teacher and student council moderator at Holy Family Catholic School in Orange, attended TACSC summer conference as a seventh and eighth-grader at St. Hedwig Catholic School in Los Alamitos.
Runnells, who took a group of Holy Family Students to the Student Leadership Day at Rosary, went on to become a student staff member for TACSC while attending Mater Dei High School and remained on staff while a student at Chapman University.
“After I went to camp twice, I knew I wanted to get involved,” Runnells said. “It was the most dynamic, exciting camp that I had ever been to. I still to this day attribute so much of how I run my student council now as moderator to TACSC. I learned so much.”
The Diocese of Orange encompasses 35 schools and 17,200 students.
According to Johnson, schools usually just send their fifth, sixth and seventh graders to participate in Leadership Days. In the future, Dr. Barisano would like to have all eighth grade students in the Diocese participate in a student leadership program that TACSC is especially creating for Diocese of Orange eighth graders. Starting this coming fall, a Student Leadership Day, similar to the one held at Rosary, is taking place for only eighth graders at Santa Margarita Catholic High School. There are close to 1,000 eighth-graders in the Diocese of Orange Catholic Schools.
“So, we are really working towards that,” the superintendent said. “I want every graduate of our elementary schools to have this leadership experience.”
For more information about TASCS and its summer programs, visit www.tacsc.org