Leadership lab: Butler students get chance to hone their skills

Wednesday, November 14, 2018 - Updated: 4:10 pm

By Christine Swift

Butler Catholic School seventh- and eighth-grade students had a special opportunity Oct. 18 to attend Slippery Rock University’s Academic Leadership Lab. The university’s Leadership Development Program specializes in experiential training that benefits professionals, faculty members and typically college-age students.

When asked if the program was modified for younger students, Erin Strain, director of leadership development at Slippery Rock, said, “Butler Catholic middle-school students will experience the same challenges and activities as other groups. Students will build their confidence through healthy risk-taking, learn to communicate using focused and mindful language, and step up to be collaborative leaders.”

Students were split into two groups to complete a series of “low” and “high” initiatives to focus on honing specific leadership skills. Low activities included team challenges and trust activities on the leadership trail aimed at cultivating a sense of community, effective communication skills, and effective planning and decision-making. High initiatives (that truly were high off the ground) included a 35-foot-high climbing tower, the “postman walk” high wire, a cargo net climb, and a telephone pole climb and jump.

The high challenges were to help students build self-confidence, define personal goals and move out of their comfort zone.

After climbing the tower, eighth-grader Justin Smith described the experience as both “exhilarating and nerve-wracking.”

A favorite activity for most students was the telephone pole jump. Seventh-grader Leah Zagurskie said, “I really enjoyed all the activities. They were very exciting, but the pole jump was my favorite because it was the greatest challenge.”

Zagurskie’s response was exactly the outcome Strain had hoped for. As students returned to debrief at the end of the day, she asked, “Did everyone challenge themselves to go one step further today?”

The students nodded in agreement, and then shared that they also learned how important it is to encourage, trust and communicate with one another.

A donation from community partner Howard Insurance Agency helped make the day possible for the Butler Catholic students.

“This is a day our students will never forget,” exclaimed middle school teacher Carol Dorcy as the day concluded.

Swift is director of marketing and public relations for Butler Catholic School.

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