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High School Leaders Help Younger Students
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- High school students at two Mississippi schools play the role of third grade teachers for a while as they participate in a pilot youth leadership program.
Junior and senior high students from South Panola and Saltillo high schools are taking part in the first year of the School Youth Leadership Program. This effort puts them in the classroom with third graders for one period two or three times a week where they assist teachers and mentor students.
Betty McPhail, Extension project coordinator for the leadership program, said the pilot was so successful that it has been offered to 15 schools this fall.
"The two schools that had the program this year are very excited about it and are recruiting students to participate next year," McPhail said. "The program's dual emphasis is to build leadership characteristics and skills in the high school students and prepare them to mentor third graders and serve as role models for them."
Coordinated through Mississippi State University's Extension Service and participating schools, the program was started with assistance from PRO-MISS Institute and works now in conjunction with 4-H.
The School Youth Leadership Program is a class that selected youth can choose to take. In the pilot program, it meets five times every two weeks. But before school started, the teenagers were prepared by a week of intensive training.
"The emphasis during this week was on enhancing personal leadership abilities as well as learning team-building skills," McPhail said. "They also learned mentoring skills, how to work with the younger children and what to expect in the classroom."
Similar summer training will take place this year, likely taking advantage of distance education and local Extension staff to train the youths in their own communities. Preparation doesn't stop with the initial training. In the pilot program, the high schoolers started the fall with a few weeks of further leadership development. They continue to meet as a class regularly to update skills and prepare the lessons they teach third graders.
Kim Evans, a third grade teacher at Saltillo Elementary and elementary coordinator for the leadership program, said both the young and older students are profiting from this match up.
"The program is working great. I think the high schoolers are learning just as much as the elementary students are learning," Evans said.
When the pilot program started, Evans said the teenagers focused on teaching the younger students reading. As teachers and high schoolers became more comfortable with the arrangement, the high schoolers began to teach the children lessons and assume mentoring roles.
"Now they're teaching the students how to deal with things without resorting to violence, and they're talking about topics like peer pressure, friendship, taking responsibility for your actions and dealing with depression," Evans said.
In Saltillo Elementary, the 13 juniors and seniors rotate in pairs to the seven third grade classes. Because of the odd number, each teenager works with a class alone a few times during the semester, but each rotates to all the classes. Typically, they teach one lesson a week and work individually with the students on their second visit of the week.
"The high schoolers come in while we're still at lunch and when they walk through the door, you can hear the eruption as the kids are excited they're here," Evans said. "The high schoolers also learn from the experience as they learn patience, how to speak to a crowd and how to relate to younger kids."
A side benefit of the program is introducing youth to 4-H, the youth development component of the MSU Extension Service. Angie Chrestman, state 4-H youth leadership coordinator, said teens in the program will learn about 4-H while being trained at the county level for work with the elementary students.
"Now that 4-H has additional staff on board, we hope to introduce more young people to all that 4-H has to offer and involve even more school children in these programs," Chrestman said. "We want the youth to realize that 4-H is a hands-on, learn-by-doing program they can be involved in."
Contact: Betty McPhail, (662) 325-2451