Massena Central High’s leadership program, including retreat at Racquette Lake, aims to fight bullying
Massena Central students participated in the Learn to Lead program: Carlie Leary, Selina Cullen, Sierra Ackerman, Baylee Carroll, Shania Koscis, Kennedy Norris, Tia Thompson, Shannon Casey, McKenna Tatro, Alisha Jacobs, Katelyn Malone, Emily Lambert, Alyssa Babcock, Rob Cameron, Bryan Shattuck, Brenden Dobbins, Kacey Snyder, Rhoades Tarbell, Evan Fregoe, Connor Paquin, Mark Bender, Noah Serabian, Jamal Byas, Sam Gerber, Dan Hauprich, James George and Jacob Cullen.MASSENA -- Massena Central High School offers students the opportunity to be a part of a different student mentor-mentee program, Learn to Lead, to help improve students’ chances for success in school.
“The purpose of Learn to Lead is to help change the climate of the high school, to help overcome any bullying,” said Massena High School guidance counselor and Learn to Lead coordinator Erin Covell.
Learn to Lead pairs juniors and seniors with freshman and sophomores based on their personalities.
“The underclassmen are students who could use a positive role model to help them navigate high school,” said Covell.
One of the group’s most exciting events is the Learn to Lead weekend retreat at the Camp Huntington Outdoor Education Center in Racquette Lake. Covell and fellow guidance counselor and program coordinator Bob Jordan leads the students in three days of building teamwork and personal relationships.
The itinerary at Camp Huntington begins with a little about the history of the facility followed by a canoe trip and a scavenger hunt – where they are looking for Principal Pat Farrand, who is dressed in camouflage. Then, it’s back to the camp for a half-hour homework session and dinner.
Every meal is family style with students and faculty sitting down together. The meal itself begins with an inspirational quote led by Director Robert Rubendall. And in keeping with the program’s belief that “to become a leader you have to serve first,” each participant takes a turn at kitchen patrol duty.
Win-win for everyone
“I was so excited – when I got there, it’s totally different then what you would expect,” said junior Shannon Casey. “You become so close with these people, you make bonds with them. My partner was harder to make a connection with because she was quiet. Girls are a little harder to open up and with girls you have to break down the barrier – with us asking – they felt like someone wanted to know, that somebody cared. We all just became so close. We even started a Facebook group.”
One major goal of Learn to Lead is to learn to overcome obstacles, personal and physical. In the morning, students tested the low elements course—a series of physical activities one to several feet off the ground. In the afternoon the participants moved to the high ropes course—this time 10 or more feet in the air. They finished the retreat with a hike up Blue Mountain. At night they sat around at the campfire talking to each other and sharing their personal successes and challenges.
“Part of the purpose is to create the obstacles for students to overcome and they get to look back at that and see what they have overcome together – find growth out of the negatives. I think the kids really put themselves into it and as a result they got a lot out of it,” said Jordan.
Students became friends right away which made for a greater experience at the camp. “This year was a particularly great group – usually, the second night is where kids typically share family experiences, but this time the first night the kids became so close,” said Covell.
“The mentors teach the mentees but they learn from each other. The neat thing for us is to see the kids come back – and see that their eyes are open to see wow I have these friends now that I never knew I had before – they know each other so well and they know their stories and now they watch out for each other.”
“It was awesome,” said sophomore Danny Hauprich. “I went into this thinking that I was just going to learn from a mentor but I feel everyone was learning from each other which was pretty cool. I consider everyone on the trip a friend now.”
Several Massena Central teachers also joined in. Physical education teacher Roy Thomas, English teacher Lisa Aldous, mathematics teacher Eliza Ladouceur and Principal Pat Farrand took part in the activities and learned a lot more about their students.
“It’s great to have faculty there,” said Jordan. “Sometimes we get caught up in everyday stuff – goals of the classroom and testing, you lose focus of everyday life. It’s good to expose the adults to the intensity of the things the students go through.”
All students and faculty members were sad to see the last day arrive.
“When you come back you feel so out of sorts – I didn’t want to be home, it was that changing of an experience. You become a little family,” said Casey.
“When you first come into this, you don’t really know what to expect, but that first day you realize, wow, this is different and actually means something – me and my partner Evan became really close right away,” said junior Rhoades Tarbell. “I even saw him first thing this morning and we acted like we were brothers. It’s nice to be able to help a lot of people – the bonds I just know they are going to last. We even have plans to meet on the weekend to carve pumpkins.”
In May, the group will take a follow-up trip to 4-H Camp Overlook. Jordan said the students are really looking forward to the next trip with each other.
Finding the right students who will benefit from this program is a test for the school.
According to Covell, a number of factors go into picking the mentors and mentees. The faculty and counselors that work with the freshman students help decide which kids would benefit from the trip. The district’s mentor program Link Crew also helped identify which upperclassmen had demonstrated the basic understanding of what it takes to be a good leader.
“Mentors are not formally trained but we spend a great deal of time with them before the trip. We lay out our expectations of them and they decide if they are up for it. We also choose them because of their character and positive attitudes and that is all they really need to be a good leader,” said Covell.
Principal Farrand is sold on Learn to Lead. He sees it as a way for mentors to lead by example and to encourage the mentees to take chances that they may not otherwise. The program helps break down the barriers created by physical or mental limitations or simply by peer groups.
“Learn to Lead is the bridge that many of the participating students need to connect to school and peers. This a great program to show students the value of school involvement and participation. All of the students learn to step out of their comfort zone from the very beginning of trip when they take the boat ride to the facility,” he said.
And the value is not limited to the “big” activities.
“I have been fortunate to be a part of this trip on two different occasions and I am always amazed at the students’ response when they first get a chance to eat and then later with clean up or prepare for the next meal. Many students have never set a table or served food to anyone else. This is a team effort and barriers are removed with the common challenge,” he said.
He stresses that all students benefit. Students quickly discover social and problem solving skills that they never knew they had. Both the mentors and mentees end up surprising themselves.
“Between team building activities, hikes, meals, academic time and talks around the fire the students become comfortable with each other and the adults—and make friendships and connections that will benefit them throughout high school and beyond,” said Farrand.