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Students learn how to become leaders through service projects

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GREENFIELD — Early Tuesday morning, Harris Elementary teacher Scott Miller jokingly asked a group of visitors to his classroom how many of them had passed the third grade.

Not surprisingly, all hands – belonging to four Greenfield-Central High School students – went up.

The students were assisting children in Miller’s third-grade classroom as part of a community service project through the Greenfield-Central High School Student Leadership Academy.

The SLA, now in its 13th year, seeks to strengthen students’ leadership skills through community service.

Courtney Dunn, 16, has been in the SLA for two years and said she looks forward to getting to know Miller’s students.

Tuesday, the youngsters were a little shy around their new helpers, who will visit them each week. But Courtney expects the tension will be short-lived as the group falls into a routine.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Courtney said. “We’re really able to key in in their atmosphere and be good role models for them.”

The high school’s student leadership academy uses an overarching leadership model with distinct prongs aimed at incorporating students of all leadership levels.

One component, Pathfinders, is open only to freshman. It is taught mainly by “Leaders to Go,” which is comprised of SLA students who have participated in the academy for three years.

Senior SLA members operate somewhat independently and complete an individual capstone project for their final year in the SLA.

Here’s how it works:

Each fall, students are invited to apply to the leadership academy, which averages about 80 student members. The academy is open to students in grades 9 through 12, though only a select number of freshmen are chosen. The remainder is invited to the Pathfinder program, which is modeled after the SLA but open only to freshmen.

Teachers and staff who volunteer as mentors then divide the SLA members into groups through an informal drafting process.

The idea is to find a good balance of personalities and leadership styles that will help the group function as a whole, social studies teacher and group mentor Laura Forsman said.

“It’s definitely about finding kids with different personalities as part of that group dynamic,” she said. “Sometimes, if you have too many strong personalities, … it’s not going to gel.”

Each group is responsible for brainstorming a community service project and planning the steps necessary to bring it to fruition.

Forsman and fellow social studies teacher Jenny Bielefeld are overseeing the SLA students who are assisting in Miller’s class at Harris Elementary. It’s their group’s second community service project of the year.

While some projects come off without a hitch, overcoming obstacles is also part of the learning process, said Bielefeld, who has been an SLA mentor for nine years.

“Students find out and learn very quickly that things don’t go right the first time, and they learn to adapt,” she said. “I think that’s the biggest thing, is just learning how to problem-solve.”

By the year’s end, the majority of groups find success in their projects, adviser Susie Coleman said.

“We see kids that take pride in working with others, seeing all the steps through,” she said, “to come up with that concept all the way to the end of seeing that project come to life.”

Here’s a look at what this year’s SLA members are doing to support the community:

Group mentors: Sharon Lime/Kendra Leary

For the fifth year running, one SLA group is dedicated to helping Families United for Support and Encouragement, a non-profit organization that aids families with children with special needs. SLA members will be assisting at this year’s F.U.S.E. Inspiring Abilities Expo. The expo will be held March 9 at the high school. SLA members will help with setup and teardown of the event and also provide child care to expo-goers.

Group mentors: Jennifer Northouse/Ann Bunnell

English teachers Northouse and Bunnell have teamed up this year with students who will collect toys for Hancock Hope House and other local families. The group will be collecting toys during the school day and at sporting events between Feb. 15 and March 8 and distributing Easter baskets before Easter Sunday. Donations may be dropped off at the high school.

Group mentors: Brent Oliver and Kristen Lee-Oliver

This husband-wife team is helping SLA students collect money to benefit Samaritan’s Feet, an organization that provides shoes to needy children. Students are collecting money at G-C sporting events including the wrestling meet Thursday and girls basketball game Tuesday. Students are also selling Samaritan’s Feet wristbands during lunch and at each sporting event.

Group mentors: Laura Forsman/Jenny Bielefeld

Social studies teachers Forsman and Bielefeld are overseeing a group with two projects this year. The group’s first project was to collect canned goods and teddy bears at G-C sporting events. The canned goods were donated to Hope House, and the group is still working to determine where the teddy bears will be donated. The group’s second project is to provide homework help to students at Harris Elementary School. SLA students go to a third-grade classroom twice per week to offer assistance.

Group mentors: Maranda Anderson/Michelle Marler

This SLA group joined with the school’s band, faculty and student body to plan an event recognizing Greenfield’s war veterans. The SLA students helped with planning, setup and teardown of the Nov. 12 veterans program held at the high school.

Group mentors: Danny Naegeli/John Rihm

Naegeli and Rihm are leading SLA students in an effort to support the Ronald McDonald House in Indianapolis, which provides a place for families to stay while they have children in Indianapolis-area hospitals. SLA members will provide dinner, dessert and care packages for families on Feb. 3. To make a donation or offer a helping hand, contact Ben Scheiter at b.scheiter@comcast.net.

Group mentors: Robin Gibson and Julie Stoeffler

Two local organizations will benefit from the work of this SLA team, which is planning a 5K run/walk fundraiser. Money raised from the event will be donated to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hancock County. Participants will also be asked to bring canned goods. Those will be donated to the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen. To become a sponsor, email Julie Stoeffler at jstoeffler@gcsc.k12.in.us. The 5K will take place April 6 at 9 a.m. at Brandywine Park in Greenfield.

Group mentors: Phil Leswing/Kelly Swain-Leswing

This husband-wife team is leading the creation of a Junior Student Leadership Academy. High School SLA members will work with eighth-graders from Greenfield Central Junior High School at St. Michael’s School. Students in the Junior Student Leadership Academy will attend three evening seminars on a variety of leadership topics There will also be a community service project for the eighth-graders to complete with the help of the SLA members.

Senior capstone project: Social seniors

G-C Senior Lesley Nickels is spearheading the effort to encourage youth interaction with residents of Springhurst Health Campus in Greenfield. The project, dubbed “Social Seniors,” includes two events per semester.

Senior capstone project: Engineering club

G-C Senior Luke Vowell is working to start an engineering club at St. Michael’s School in Greenfield. He plans to hold engineering activities once per month after school with seventh- and eighth-grade children in hopes of building interest in the high school’s Project Lead the Way engineering academy.

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