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High school seniors build leadership skills
Alannah Fanelli, 17, participates in a game Tuesday at Lakewood Baptist Church as part of the Hall County mentorship program. Students were given several team-building exercises that help build effective communication and establish synergy within the group. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

For some people, it may be hard to understand how ropes courses or other activities can build leadership, but some Hall County students have made the connection.

“It helps you learn dependability,” said Amber Stamey, Johnson High School senior.

“It teaches you that you can’t do everything as efficiently on your own, as you could with a team.”

Like the other members of the Hall County mentorship program, on Tuesday Stamey was busy in a team-building retreat at Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville. During the exercises the students learned that, as a leader, being an effective communicator is as important as having a vision for reaching a goal.

“The interesting thing about these students is that they are the cream of the cream, so this is about challenging them on a higher level,” said Shane Shullard, one of the retreat’s facilitators.

“The theme of the day is ‘knowledge is power.’ This is about teaching them how to recognize their own strengths and using those strengths to help the team be successful.”

The mentorship program pairs highly motivated juniors and seniors with local business professionals who help the students gain career experience in an area of particular interest. In addition to gaining knowledge in a specific field, students also earn academic, elective credit for participating.

During the retreat, the students had to complete a number of activities, including one where six members of a team had to rely on verbal cues from their leader to determine how to lift and move a tennis ball using ropes that connected to a metal ring. Sounds easy enough, but everyone except the leader on the seven-member team was blindfolded.

“Before starting, each team picked the person that was most likely to not want to lead as their leader. They are all bright kids, but some are more introverted than others,” said Shullard.

“This gave the introverts the opportunity to explore a new behavior by leading and to see if they like that position or not.”
Challenging the students to reach their full potential is one of the main goals of the mentorship program, which is open to all Hall County School System juniors and seniors.

“We try to teach the students how to identify their strengths and then to capitalize on them,” said Kathy Mellette, program co-coordinator.

“The program also helps the students to learn time management skills — most are really involved at their individual schools. So on top of that, they have to balance the requirements of the class, which is more of an independent study course. They also have to commit to working with their mentor in the community for at least five hours a week for 12 to 14 weeks.”

Participants’ fields of interest are varied, said Jennifer Killingsworth, program co-coordinator.

“We always have students who are interested working in health care (or with) attorneys, but even in those fields, interests are pretty diversified,” Killingsworth said.

“We’ve even had a student who wanted to be a pilot and who was later accepted into the Air Force Academy.”

On top of working with mentors, the students are required to conduct research, blog and to also turn out a big “product” at the end of the semester.

“We had one student who is interested in government, so her big product was completing a voter registration drive at the high schools,” Killingsworth said.

“She had to get permission to do it from the schools, advertise it and then actually carry it out.”

Participating in the program has helped students like Stamey — who has taken the class three times — pinpoint future goals.

Twice she found educator mentors, but she also mentored with an emergency room doctor for one semester.

“Wherever the doctor went, I went. I saw everything from kidney stones, to third-degree burns and even (corpses),” Stamey said.

“It was amazing. I love the human body, and it was really cool to be able to see everything. I loved the medicine part of it, but I also love teaching about it. This has helped me to keep my options open.”