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Building better leaders among DC’s youth
Monday, May 14, 2012
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By Jennifer Kotila
Staff writer

DASSEL, COKATO, MN – As head volleyball coach for six years, Dassel-Cokato teacher Beth Flick always wanted to be able to spend more time developing the leadership skills of her team captains, she said.

That also seemed to be a theme for other coaches when meeting at the end of the sports season with DC Activities Director Perry Thinesen.

However, demanding practice and school schedules make it difficult for coaches to have the time needed to work with team leaders and enhance their skills, noted Flick.

For several years, the district kicked around the idea of creating a leadership academy to develop effective leaders at DC, but someone was needed to get it off the ground.

Flick decided to do just that after resigning as head coach and finding she had more time to focus on building the DC Leadership Academy.

Although the original thought was for the academy to be for team captains, Flick and Thinesen realized team captains were not the only leaders who could benefit.

“Ideally, we want to enhance the activities these students are involved in, and also see that translate into the hallways or the stands,” Flick said.

It was decided to open up the academy to all seniors who were involved in at least one extra-curricular activity.

“The leadership academy is helping [students] to see that, even if they are not a captain, they are still a leader – younger kids look up to [them],” Flick said.

She also noted that seniors who don’t have the title of captain act as a buffer, or “go-between,” for the team and the captain, whereas captains are often the buffer between the team and the coach.

“These students are learning lifelong skills to help in the long-term – family, jobs, college,” Thinesen said.

The seniors who participated in the leadership academy this year found it helpful as they navigated their roles as leaders.

It helped them communicate better, not only with their team, but also with teachers and coaches, noted Hailey Schminke, who participated in the leadership academy.

Schminke was in volleyball and basketball, and is currently in track. She is also in student council, Future Lies in You (FLY), and the National Honor Society.

“Oftentimes, kids become a captain or team leader without a whole lot of training,” Flick said. “This program supports them in becoming leaders.”

In preparation for launching the leadership academy, Flick did, and still does, a lot of research, she said.

She also networked with leaders of similar programs in other schools, read a lot of books about effective leadership, and contacted activity directors from other schools for their input.

Taking what she learned, Flick created a leadership program she thought would work well for DC, she said.

Last summer, Flick sent a letter to all 2011-12 seniors who were involved in at least one extracurricular activity. She also sent letters to the parents of those seniors.

The letter explained the leadership academy, and asked students to consider becoming involved.

The first meeting of the leadership academy took place last summer, with 25 to 30 students participating, which Flick considers an accomplishment.

“These are the busiest of busy kids,” Flick said, noting that deciding to take on the additional responsibility of being part of the leadership academy only adds to their busy schedules.

The initial meeting was about four hours in length, and the theme was what it meant to be a leader, and what leaders can do that both positively or negatively affects the team.

“It helped a lot when we had the meeting in the fall for football,” said Tyler Krekelberg, a member of the leadership academy. “We went over the basics of being a leader – what to say when the team is not doing well, keeping kids out of the dumps.”

Krekelberg was the football captain and is now the baseball captain.

“It helped us work on the team chemistry,” said Nicole Nelson, another member of the leadership academy. “It was nice to be able to talk to people going through the same thing.”

Nelson was in volleyball and basketball, and is currently in track. She is also in student council, FLY, and NHS.

Throughout the year, there has been a breakfast meeting during each activity season, as well as an evening session lasting three hours between activity seasons, Flick said.

“It was really beneficial – gave us more in-depth tools for helping our teammates and peers,” said Isaac Anderson, a member of the leadership academy who was a basketball captain and is the student council vice president.

Anderson also noted that it helped in handling conflicts, teaching different ways to handle it and work through problems.

“It helped a lot in hockey,” said leadership academy member Cole O’Brien, noting the team had a long losing streak. The leadership academy taught him subtle things to lead the team on and off the ice, he added.

O’Brien played hockey and is also a baseball captain. “With younger kids who are looking up to us, we want to be respected,” O’Brien said.

Although Flick has an agenda for each meeting, they are flexible in order to be able to discuss topics at hand.

“They are feeding positively off of one another – discussing things they would possibly never otherwise discuss because the forum was not there,” Flick said.

“If we were having a problem on our team, it was nice to know that others were having similar issues and could help out and talk about it,” Schminke said.

Students have also had the opportunity to talk about the risks, responsibilities, and rewards of being a leader.

“That’s one of the things they don’t necessarily think about until they are in that position,” Flick said.

For instance, how to have a positive impact on teammates, and problem-solving skills.

“It really make you aware of the role you play as a leader – including with the younger players,” Nelson said.

“The program isn’t just about your team, but also all the younger teams,” Schminke added.

Flick noted the students come from a number of different backgrounds and experiences, which help each other grow as leaders.

“I think [students] are starting to see this as a network for them to talk to each other about what they are doing with their teams,” Flick said.

Over the course of the year, the difference made by the leadership academy is noticeable, with head coaches commenting on improvements in students’ leadership, Flick said.

Students have also approached and asked about when the next meeting would take place, because they were seeing some issues on their team.

“It’s a lot for a busy kid to request to meet for feedback and support from other captains and leaders,” Flick said.

Flick is hoping to receive feedback from the students who were part of the academy this year to improve it for next year and have more students participate.

“This was a fun, fun group of students to work with,” Flick said.

This spring, juniors who participate in extracurricular activities will be invited to attend their first session of the DC Leadership Academy.

After their initial meeting this spring, there will be one or two summer sessions to lay the foundation for next school year, Flick added.

Although it was a choice for students this year to be involved in the leadership academy, it will be required of team captains next year.

However, the program will still be open to any senior students who are part of activities and want to improve their leadership skills, Flick added.

Flick also wants to begin working more with junior students involved in activities next year, she said.

“Getting more involvement at the junior level will help in having more progress when they are seniors,” Flick said.

“This is still taking shape – growing to where it will be,” Thinesen said.

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