DRAFFENVILLE – Margaret Thatcher, the first woman prime minister of Great Britain, famously said, “Being a leader is like being a lady. If you have to go around telling people you are one, you aren’t.”
Thatcher would likely approve of the new Leadership Dynamic class at Marshall County High School in which, according to teacher Chris Fortenbery, students are learning to “walk the walk, not talk the talk.”
Fortenbery is coordinator of services for gifted and talented students at Marshall County High School and the three county middle schools. She was chosen to instruct the leadership class when the decision was made in May to add it as a high school offering starting with this school year.
“I want to instill in them to look around them and see the need and fulfill it in their school and in their community,” Fortenbery said.
The purpose of the class is to enable students to address needs, provide services and practice leadership in practical, real-world situations, not merely in academic settings. The concept was developed by Fortenbery; Toddie Adams, director of gifted services for Marshall County Schools; Kem Cothran, secondary supervisor; and Amy Waggoner, MCHS principal.
Students had to complete an application and provide two letters of reference in order to apply.
Two sections of the class are being offered, one for freshmen and sophomores and another for juniors and seniors. There are 18 students in each section.
A schedule of activities is already being implemented. They include:
• Supporting the new behavior system, Marshal Law, at the high school.
Leadership students are developing posters, public service announcements and other ways to communicate expectations regarding students’ conduct in class, at lunch, in assemblies and other gatherings, plus proper dress code, new rules for tardiness, and so forth. Presentations are in the works about the dangers of chemical marijuana and other drug-danger subjects.
• Promoting the “Rachel’s Challenge” program throughout the district.
The national program emphasizing kindness was established in memory of Rachel Scott, a victim of the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.
• Promoting Safe Schools Week/Red Ribbon Week.
Students developed a presentation titled “Cyber Survivor” focusing on the pitfalls and potential dangers of ill-advised use of the Internet, social networks and other technological communications.
• Developing public service projects.
A Diaper Drive is in the planning stages to provide disposable diapers for needy families. It is scheduled to be conducted after Christmas holiday.
• Providing assistance and mentoring.
The focus is on helping new students adapt to Marshall County schools, providing services to assist teachers and other staff in various projects, and to mentor gifted and talented students in elementary and middle school.
Already, Fortenbery said, awareness is becoming sharper.
“I had a student who came to me and said, ‘There’s a new girl in school and she’s having trouble. She doesn’t understand the schedule, and the counselor is trying to help her. That’s something we should do in the leadership class.’
“I just wanted to hug her for that.”
Enthusiasm is high, Fortenbery added, noting that a number of class members worked over a weekend, on their own initiative and without supervision, to create a presentation for the Safe Schools project, because they knew there would not be sufficient time to finish it in class.
“They took it upon themselves to create the PowerPoint, created an excellent product, took it upon themselves to contact the elementary schools and the middle schools and contacted [County Judge Executive Mike Miller] to get a proclamation signed,” Fortenbery said.
“We’re the ‘go-to’ group,” junior, Savana Smothers said. “If anybody needs help, they go to us.”
Guest speakers are part of the program. Two former MCHS gifted and talented students met with the Leadership Dynamics classes already, on the topics of travel study and college and leadership styles and characteristics. Circuit Judge Dennis Foust addressed the class last week.
Leadership Dynamics operates on a “seat-of-the-pants” schedule rather than a rigid lesson outline, as Fortenbery, in administering the class, practices the same kind of flexibility and creative adaptation she is trying to teach students to use.
“We tell them, ‘Think of a proposal and draw it up and we’ll present it to Mrs. Waggoner,” she said.
Smothers and fellow class members Mariah McKenty and Kinsey Scharmahorn were at Benton Middle School Friday morning to present the “Cyber Survivor” program. Their ability to think on their feet was tested when the original plan to present the program in Chambers Gymnasium was foiled by technical obstacles.
The forum was moved to the school’s music room. Because of the smaller space, separate presentations were made, first to seventh- and eighth-graders and then to sixth-graders.
The three girls showed very little anxiety as they worked with BMS staff and faculty to alter the plan for the presentation, then proceeded with the program.
They introduced themselves and, in a casual, teen-friendly, conversational way, offered information and advice about the dangers of revealing personal information online, the potential harm that could come from posting or transmitting messages sent in anger and other topics.
They didn’t have to explain to their audience they were putting leadership skills into practice.
That went without saying.