Leadership Academy grows future leaders through community and school connections  


Leadership Academy grows future leaders through community and school connections  

July 15, 2019

Students sitting around a tabbleMiddle school-aged students participating in the Summer Youth Leadership Academy (SYLA) offered at the Warwick Valley Community Center are learning the team approach to leadership through interactions with local leaders, every day of the two-week long program. 

Teamwork is considered the most valuable competence in 21st-century business and organizational settings, and today’s learning skills emphasize collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. 

Learning from Warwick Valley district and school leaders 

Educator presenting to studentsOn day-three of the Academy, Wednesday, July 10, students were bused to the Media Center of the Warwick Valley High School for a team leadership workshop with Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Leach and Middle School Principal Georgiana Diopoulos. The school’s new Media Center itself was designed as a collaborative learning environment. 

To help students begin to recognize themselves as uniquely valuable members of a team, Dr. Leach introduced them to the psychogeometrics test. Based on the theory that different personality types are attracted to different geometric shapes, the exercise is used to identify five core communication styles and types of team members.

During a roundtable discussion, Dr. Leach invited students to reflect on their personal characteristics and strengths and how they can use them to be effective team members and positive influencers. 

“Intelligence and personal talent are not measured in grades or testing,” Dr. Leach said. “Part of our job, as school leaders and educators, is to help you identify your strengths and to honor your talents.” 

In the school's media center, a group of students sit or stand around a table. They are drawing a creature on red paper using tubes of toothpaste.on red paper.Based on what students learned about themselves through the psychogeometrics exercise, Principal Diopoulos asked the students to divide themselves into diverse teams for an activity requiring the quick exchange of ideas to draw an animal representing the group’s differences. 

Four students sit at a table engage in conversation with an educator standing by. The setting it the school's media center. aged in conversationUsing toothpaste tubes as drawing instruments, the teams created both real and imaginary creatures. The interaction and outcomes drove home the power of bringing together different perspectives and strengths, as well as the need to communicate in a way that respects and validates every member’s contribution to the team

To emphasize the impact of words in team communications and dynamics, Dr. Diopoulos asked the students to put the toothpaste back in the tubes. 

“The words we use are like toothpaste: once they’re out, we can’t take them back,” she said. “We will not always get the right word out but  the important thing is to be thinking about how we are communicating, and how we want to bring our messages across.”

Why students join SYLATwo students at a table drawing with toothpaste tubes

Participants’ motivation for joining the academy runs a gamut. Seventh-grader Carmine Capezza wants to learn leadership skills to pursue his dream job at the Pentagon or the U.S. Congress.

Seventh-grader Violet Ross has more immediate goals: “I want to be treasurer of the school,” she said. “This is a great camp to join. You learn about yourself and the kind of leader you can be.” 

SYLA counselor, Sidney Eagan, a Class of 2016 Warwick graduate now in her senior year at Marymount Manhattan College, sees her calling and primary role as, “helping kids step out of their comfort zone,” she said. “I keep an eye out to make sure everyone is being included and making friends in the program. When they start getting to know each other, they are more open to other people’s way of thinking and their feelings.” 

Looking ahead to high school, and #TheirFutureIn the school's media center, and adult points two students to a marquis showing stock market updates. mation.

Before taking the students on a quick tour of the career and technology wing of the High School, Dr. Leach encouraged SYLA’s participants to prepare for their futures with intent: “Seek new challenges and set goals for yourself. Go home and think about leadership. Make good choices and surround yourself with people of different talents, backgrounds and beliefs.” Adult speaker addressing students in a video production room with large screens in the background

Dr. Leach took the opportunity to introduce future high school students to some of the resources offered at the Media Center, such as the news and stock market marquis. They continued on to the High School video production suite and learned about the many career-oriented programs they will be able to explore. 

About SYLA

SYLA takes a comprehensive approach to youth development and emphasizes the team model of leadership. The program actively recruits middle school-aged students who may otherwise miss opportunities to tap their leadership potential. Participants engage in cultural enrichment activities and develop skills for personal, educational and professional success, in a fun and interactive learning environment.

Group of students running down a flight of stairs outside a school buildingTo help students connect with the real world and learn from the experience of others, the program involves guest speakers and interactions with local community and business leaders, as well as field trips. The academy culminates with a graduation ceremony.  

Offered in Warwick Valley for ten years, SYLA operates under the guidance of Annie Colonna, director of prevention services for the Warwick Community Center, and Tamara Roman, youth coordinator for Warwick Valley Prevention Coalition. Developed by the Orange County Youth Bureau, the program is sponsored by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services. 



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