Leadership opportunities abound for Warwick students


Leadership opportunities abound for Warwick students

March 30, 2017

diagram showing all the student clubs at Warwick Valley High School 2016-17


Clubs, programs and classroom activities hone leadership skills

The Warwick Valley Central School District provides students at all levels with a variety of leadership opportunities, through clubs, programs and classroom activities that hone their leadership skills. This confidence-building foundation is one students can build upon in college and beyond.

WVCSD offers more than 40 student clubs and 42 athletic teams (from modified- to varsity-level) to help students discover and follow their passions – many providing opportunities for students to impact their world with meaningful community service, which fosters service leadership. There are options everywhere, with something for everyone, including LEGOS and chess, environmental stewardship, performing arts, athletics, student government, STEM-focused clubs, history and literature, and many more.

“Our approach to student leadership accounts for how children naturally develop both as learners and leaders,” said Superintendent Dr. David Leach. “Early on, we focus on increasing children’s awareness that leadership is much more than positional authority. As students mature, so will their passion for serving others. This approach includes providing access to experiences and causes that they find meaningful, in areas of their particular interest, so that leadership becomes part of their self-identity.”

Leadership opportunities at every level

At the elementary school level, even the youngest students take responsibility for helping others. Kindergartners help their classmates with reading, writing and projects. There are Green Team and Green Cub club leaders, responsible for making sure we separate recyclables from classroom waste, among other conservation activities, and fourth graders are assigned Kindergarten “buddies”.

At Park Avenue Elementary School, some of the more involved and organized leadership opportunities come through membership in Student Council. Student Council members have significant roles in school-wide initiatives such as No Name Calling Week, the Veterans Day Celebration in the fall, and toy, clothing and food drives throughout the year. They also assist with special events such as the recent Valentine’s Dance for senior citizens and the play for Park Avenue’s ‘One Book, One School’ read.

The entire Park Avenue yearbook is created by students in the Yearbook Club, where students have leadership roles with yearbook content, sales, distribution, layout and photography. “All Park Avenue students have a chance to practice leadership with their positive behavior inside and outside the classroom,” said Principal Sandra Wood. “Positive behavior is rewarded by Park Avenue teachers each week in the classroom, and school-wide on a monthly basis.”

At Sanfordville Elementary, students have an opportunity to learn leadership skills through the PTA enrichment class “Be a Leader,” where students learn the five practices of leadership, based on the Student Leadership Challenge Experience. From this course, a Leadership Club for third and fourth graders will be established at the school this spring. The club will work on one or two service projects a year to complete together as a team with help from the entire building.

Some Sanfordville classes employ ‘table captains,’ whose job it is to critique the performance of their collaborative groups and book clubs using rubrics and providing positive feedback.

Music classes at Sanfordville manifest leadership skills, as each section has a section leader and an assistant responsible for handing out and collecting materials, who also must be on top of their parts – training for further advancement through the music program where there are auditions for this honor.

Green Team members at Sanfordville lead by learning—then sharing with their peers—information about sustainability and environmental stewardship. “Leadership opportunities are everywhere at Sanfordville,” said Principal Johnna Maraia. “Even our youngest students in kindergarten regularly assume responsibilities like being ‘line leader,’ completing weekly classroom jobs and serving as table helpers.”

Middle school students practice their leadership skills through groups like Student Senate and the Leadership Club, led by Principal Lisamarie Spindler. In the musical ensemble groups, a student-musician assigned “first chair” leads her section of the band or orchestra. “We see all kinds of student-leaders at the Middle School,” said Mrs. Spindler. “There are those with big ideas, those good at building consensus, and those who are great organizers.”

High school students are encouraged to lead in a variety of ways – both elected and non-elected leadership positions. From team captains to class officers, along with student governance in musical ensembles, and officers for all clubs, student leaders play an integral part in the everyday operation of programs at Warwick Valley High School.

“Our student leaders are asked to commit to high standards and exemplary behavior. And they hold themselves and their peers accountable,” said high school Principal Dr. Larry Washington. “Our faculty and the administration rely on the partnerships we forge with student leaders. We look to them to guide, inform and inspire their peers.”

Students discuss leadership opportunities, responsibilities, and their experiences in Warwick schools

Recently, five students from the high school’s new Leadership Academy class sat down to discuss leadership. These students, Jennie Prial, Brogan Dineen, Emily Welling, Demi Herasme, and Jason and Thomas Nafash, spoke broadly about the various leadership opportunities at Warwick Valley High School, but also about their individual experiences.


Looking back on your early years here in the school district, do you recall some of the leadership opportunities you had in elementary and middle school?


The students all agreed that at the elementary and middle school levels, while the leadership opportunities may not have been so obvious to them at the time, looking back they acknowledge there were always small projects or classroom responsibilities that gave everyone a chance to help, supervise or positively influence their peers.

Jennie: Teachers had us taking turns to do different things in the classroom, whether it was clean-up duty or leading a project.


What opportunities have you had to perform community service?


Emily: There are always opportunities to do community service. Student Senate does clothing drives, food drives and blood drives. As part of the Leadership Academy, we choose a service project in the fall and work on it throughout the year.

Jason: Jennie and I are doing a reading project for second-graders. On a regular basis, we go down to the elementary schools to read to second-graders.

Demi: Emily and I chose to fundraise for the Make-A-Wish Foundation this year. We’ve had a basketball tournament to raise funds, and hope to raise $7,500 in total, which is what it costs to make one wish come true for a child with cancer. If we make the amount for a wish, we’ll get to meet the child and find out what his or her wish is.

Brogan: I’m working with one of my classmates to organize a midnight run with St. Stephens. We’re helping the youth group there with plans to collect clothing and toiletries to bring to the homeless in New York City sometime in mid-March.

Thomas: My friend Jack and I are fundraising for the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund – which helps families in the tristate area tackle childhood cancer. We ran a ‘Pass, Punt and Kick’ fundraiser in the fall, and a silent auction during homecoming. So far we’ve raised $350 – we’re hoping to reach $1,000 by the end of the school year.


Do any of you attribute your high personal productivity and confidence levels to your leadership experiences at school?


Jennie: I think that, rather than leadership class or other leadership opportunities making me more productive, I think I’m just a naturally productive person. But Leadership class has given me more well-rounded sets of skills – some as simple as responding in a timely manner to emails. Simple, but important.

Emily: I’ve gained a lot of confidence during this class because it forces you to do things outside your comfort zone. We have guest speakers in the class, and it’s the students who contact and arrange for the speakers to come in. I contacted someone from Make-A-Wish to come in and speak to the class – it wasn’t anyone I already knew – I just had to call and ask. This can actually be uncomfortable for students – it makes you vulnerable to rejection.

Guest speakers lined up by Leadership Academy students this year were: Mr. Gonzales from Make-A-Wish; Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton; Jan Brunkhorst from Beautiful People; best-selling author Jim Defelice; Mr. Phil Royle, Project Manager for LEGO Land; school administrators Dr. Leach, Mr. Yap, Dr. Washington and Mr. Sirico; Secret Service Special Agent Kent McCarthy; New York State Assemblymen Karl Brabenec and James Skoufis; the Athletic Director of Goshen Schools, Greg Voloshin; Warwick Town Judge Jeanine Wadeson; former school superintendent Ken Mitchell; Warwick School Board President Lynn Lillian; Vice President of Community & Corporate Relations for the NY Giants, Allison Stangeby; Purple Heart recipient and WVHS teacher Eduardo Avila; the founder of Sustainable Warwick, Bob McGrath; Lt. Daniel Prial, USMA, helicopter pilot, Iraq; Holocaust survivor Aviva Cohen; New York State Comptroller Mr. Thomas DeNapoli, TJ Asprea, Director of CBS Evening News and Warwick Alumnus, and; New York State Senator John Bonacic.


What opportunities have you had to attend leadership conferences or meet with leadership students from outside Warwick?


Brogan: Jason and I went to the LEAD Conference in Washington, D.C. last year. A different group went this year.

Jason: It was a great experience because of the excellent speakers and workshops.

Brogan: We got different perspectives from diverse groups of students from all over the country. It made us realize all of the opportunities we have here in Warwick, whereas students in other parts of the country don’t have nearly as many. I met a girl from the state of Florida, who doesn’t have Student Senate at her school. So she had to fight to convince school administrators and her teacher to attend the conference. It was a really big deal for her.


Do you consider any of your teachers or other adults in your life to be role models?


Demi: Leadership class students just recently had to consider this question. We were asked to write a “Gratitude Letter” to someone in the District who helped them or who they looked up to. I wrote to former teacher Mr. Sattler. We invited all the letter recipients to an upcoming reception in their honor here at school.


Since all of you participate in school sports, can you also talk about how sports in Warwick help bring out the leadership abilities in students?


Jennie, Cross Country Track and Basketball: In Warwick, your team is like your family – you look out for one another. Being on a Warwick team shows you how to be a leader by caring for your teammates. You naturally take on the responsibility of helping and showing the ropes to younger teammates.

Thomas, Track and Field: With track in Warwick, everyone is a leader and displays their personal leadership because of tradition. The tradition of excellence, discipline, achievement. The coaches tell you that just because others before us achieved a lot and were the best of the best doesn’t mean we’ll automatically get that too. We all need to do our jobs and put in the effort – nothing is given to us, we have to earn it.

Demi and Emily, Basketball: On the basketball team, we definitely have the teamwork mindset and determination. We’re in it for each other, not for individual stats and glory.

Emily: We vote for a captain of the team, and what we look for in that person is confidence and good sportsmanship.

Brogan, Lacrosse: We’re not having team captains this year. We’re hoping the natural leaders on the team will emerge, and it also means everyone really has to step up and be ‘captain-like’.

leadership academy students

L to R: Jason Nafash, Jennie Prial, Emily Welling, Demi Herasme, Brogan Dineen and Thomas Nafash

Leadership Academy class at WVHS

The Leadership Academy class, taught by veteran social studies teacher Mr. Eugene Burns, is new this year at the high school. The full-year elective course, offered to juniors and seniors, focuses on leadership throughout history and on applied leadership theory. “What we’re hoping for is to find the leadership skills these kids already have, and just hone them a bit,” explained Mr. Burns. “We work on projects that allow students to demonstrate leadership not only in the school setting, but also out in the broader community. The students bring in many guest speakers throughout the year, which provides powerful inspiration to the class. They get to hear a lot of different perspectives on leadership.”

Mr. Burns also spoke about the superintendent’s commitment to creating new opportunities for Warwick students. “Dr. Leach is looking to provide many opportunities for students in all areas, not just this one class. He’s willing to take time to discuss different opportunities and to try new things,” Mr. Burns added.

Also new this year: Model UN

Model United Nations, or Model UN, is a new extracurricular activity at Warwick Valley High School. The club, led by high school teachers Gene Burns and Brian Nelson, is a simulation of the diplomacy and international relations that take place at the United Nations, where students learn and practice the skills of an actual UN delegate – research, public speaking, debating, critical thinking, and team work.

Clubs from all over the United States (and the world) attend conferences, where participants (delegates) are placed in committees and assigned countries. Delegates conduct research on pre-assigned topics and debate their positions, staying true to the actual position of the member they represent. Model UN fosters negotiation, speaking and communication skills necessary for leaders in many different fields. Some notable individuals who belonged to Model UN clubs in their youth include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, actor Samuel L. Jackson and former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Though the club at Warwick Valley High School is only in its first year, student members have already been on trips to conferences all over New York City. “So far, it’s been a great experience,” said Mr. Nelson, “club members interact with other students from all over, and have learned a lot from the multicultural aspect alone. They’re also learning how important preparation is, since they have to think and speak off-the-cuff on the issue at hand – which means they must be well-versed on the subject. And they have to follow the decorum and procedures of the real UN, so they are learning about that as well.”

“The students in Model UN are exposed to many inspirational role models,” added Mr. Burns. “A Model UN Conference begins with a guest speaker – usually from the UN Mission – who tells the students about how their work has impacted the world.”

The club is student-run, with Mr. Nelson and Mr. Burns there to offer guidance. “We have about 50 students signed up, with a group of about 20 ‘core’ members,” said Mr. Nelson. “There is no maximum number of students who can participate, and no minimum participation required. Some can’t make it to every meeting, and that’s o.k. – they can still participate by helping with research or offering a different perspective on an issue.”

Interact Club and Community Service Leaders

Interact Club at the high school, led by teacher Jeanine Fogler, is another opportunity for students to enhance their service leadership skills. Interact is a service club sponsored by Rotary International. Rotary Clubs provide support and guidance, but Interact is self-governing and self-supporting.

By working on community service projects, club members acquire networking skills as they interact with local and international organizations. Students learn the importance of developing leadership skills, personal integrity, helpfulness and respect for others.

“As part of Interact, students work with the broader community on a daily basis,” said Mrs. Fogler. “Although there are some national and international service projects, there is really so much the students do locally to benefit our own community,” Mrs. Fogler said.

Some of the club’s major initiatives are the holiday food drives, and work with the local food pantry and Rotary Club throughout the year. Interact members also make regular visits to Mount Alverno, where they engage the residents in different activities. The students now have ties to the local creative non-profit, Wickham Works.

“The local community regularly asks for help from Interact Club members,” Mrs. Fogler added. “For instance, our students recently assisted at the Valentine’s Dance for senior citizens at Park Avenue, and they really enjoyed it! It’s these types of service projects that makes community leaders out of our students.”

High school learning connects to real world skills

Doug Torgersen teaches Financial Literacy at the high school, where he sees students gain the confidence necessary for success after high school as they learn real-world skills about finances. “Taking charge of one’s financial future can improve every aspect of their lives,” says Mr. Torgersen. “All good decision-makers, and leaders for that matter, use the same basic tools.” Students in the Financial Literacy course have the opportunity to acquire these tools and the knowledge and skills necessary to make good choices. “I think this quote by CEO Lisa Cash Hanson sums up the goals of the course: ‘Leadership is the ability to guide others without force into a direction or decision that leaves them still feeling empowered and accomplished.’ With self-discipline, the techniques and tools I teach the students in this course can ultimately change their lives and the lives of others,” says Mr. Torgersen.

WVCSD: building leadership skills for life

“The culture in Warwick schools, from kindergarten to the senior class, is to encourage leadership in all of our students, in whatever way each student is comfortable,” said Assistant Superintendent Mr. James Yap. “The many opportunities to lead, along with the encouragement of our teachers, allow every student to build leadership skills for life.”


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