“We wanted to see those scholars use their leadership skills and qualities in a positive way,” Cleveland said. “So, we created a Peer Leadership Program and work with the scholars on various leadership activities.”
Cleveland and Overton meet with the group of 15 students, five each from sixth, seventh and eighth grade, once a week on Wednesday afternoons.
The two program facilitators developed a nomination letter to invite students to be a member of this group. In part, it says, “We have selected you because we see that you exemplify high moral character as stated in our student creed. We believe with your leadership skills you can make a difference in other students’ lives. You will learn valuable skills to help you become successful in our everyday changing world. Skills such as etiquette, effective communication, problem solving, peer to peer conflict resolution, being an effective mentor, and networking with community leaders. These and other skills will help mold you into becoming an effective leader to be successful in today’s world.”
The Peer Leadership Program has had speakers come into talk about leadership skills. The scholars also act as school ambassadors, as well. As ambassadors, the students go to the office, greet visitors, and give them a tour of the building while they take them to the classroom where they need to be.
In November, Tashara Ballard-Brown, an entrepreneur and community advocate, spoke to the Peer Leadership Program students. She is a Toledo native who currently lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. She owns various businesses in both cities and recently held a free CPR training event at a local high school where more than 150 community students became CPR and automated external defibrillator (AED) certified.
“Miss Tashara spoke to the students about the importance of being an effective leader and how being a leader isn’t always easy,” Cleveland said. “She was very impressed with our students’ engagement and their questions. Also, she was impressed that a few members met her in the office to greet her and bring her to the room where she spoke.”
Overton, Cleveland, and the students got right to work the first time they met.
“At our first meeting, we sat down with the students to define leadership together,” Cleveland said. “We talked as a leadership group about what they saw as some issues taking place in the hallways and issues that needed to be addressed in general. Principal Lopez and Dean Hilt met to talk with the students, as well, to do some brainstorming about the different issues taking place and how to resolve them.”
Overton and Cleveland have spent time talking with the scholars about what qualities they admire in leaders they see and know.
“We’ve talked with them about leaders that are in their lives, and that whatever qualities they see in them as a leader, the students need to strive to have those same qualities,” Cleveland said. “So, you can't say I really love LeBron James because he’s a humble person, but then you’re not displaying the same trait that you saw in him. We’re working to build the foundation for them and giving them confidence so they can learn how to use their voice.”
At the end of each meeting, Overton and Cleveland give the Peer Leadership Program scholars a leadership task.
“The group’s first task was to hold a door open for someone. And if they are seen completing that task their name goes into a raffle,” Overton said. “Another task was to not interrupt others when someone is speaking. It’s just general good manners tasks. We know good morals and values will take them a long way in their everyday life.”
The facilitators have noticed the Peer Leadership Program members are starting to understand that if they see an issue, they can try to help and seek out their group leaders for advice on ways to handle a situation if needed. Overton and Cleveland have been receiving comments and emails from other staff.
Overton gave an example with one email that said, “Oh my goodness, I don't know what you guys are doing, but one of your students was such a good peer leader today. There was an issue in my class, and they got up and handled it. They gave some good advice on what to do next time. It really shocked me because I wouldn’t expect that from this particular child.”
“So, it’s been going well and making our hearts very happy,” Overton said. “I think it helps too because they know we’re always watching because the classroom we share is literally in the heart of the middle school classes.”
Also, the Peer Leadership Program is involved in service projects. Currently, the students are participating in a toy drive for the Salvation Army and 13ABC Action News. The peer leaders are collecting new, unwrapped toys to donate to families that may be experiencing financial hardship this holiday season.
Overton and Cleveland believe the Peer Leadership Program will provide skills that can be referenced on the scholars’ high school application. Throughout the school year, they will be responsible for various activities that will make the school campus a better place to learn and provide a positive school culture.
Thank you to Mrs. Overton and Mr. Cleveland who are leading their scholars by example!
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Bennett Venture Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school located in Toledo, Ohio serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.