By Jennifer Kotila
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Four Dassel-Cokato juniors had the opportunity to gain valuable leadership skills and insight at the Minnesota Student Leadership Seminar hosted by the West Point Society of Minnesota at the University of St. Thomas Nov. 9.
Cole Schmidt, Liana Haataja, Michael Chvojicek, and Annie Raisanen were among about 100 students and 50 faculty members from throughout Minnesota to participate in the seminar.
The seminar “is meant to excite the leaders of tomorrow about character and ethics, and to help in the development of the next generation of leaders within our communities,” according to a press release from the West Point Society of Minnesota.
The Minnesota Student Leadership Academy allows only four students from each district to attend the seminar per year, noted DC Leadership Academy coordinator and sixth grade teacher Beth Flick, who accompanied the students at the seminar.
Flick began the DC Leadership Academy in 2011, to develop effective leaders at DC. The academy is open to all seniors who are involved in at least one activity at DC Schools.
The students who went to the leadership seminar at St. Thomas were selected by DC teachers and administration.
Students were chosen who impact the school in various areas in a leadership role, such as student government, various clubs and activities, and athletics and fine arts.
“We choose juniors (which is who primarily attends the conference from all other schools, as well) so that they are able to use what they have learned for this year and next,” Flick said.
“I think we were chosen based off of our leadership qualities,” Schmidt added.
The conference relates ethics to leadership abilities, Chvojicek said.
“The hope is that the four that we took (to the conference) can use what they’ve learned to impact as many other students as possible,” Flick said.
This is the second year students from DC have attended the seminar, and student feedback has been very positive both years, she added.
“I think it gives them a chance to talk with other students from all over Minnesota who are in similar leadership roles in their own districts,” Flick said. “They are able to see things from a point of view beyond DC, and then use that experience to help shape their own leadership styles and potential, here at DC and beyond.”
During the break-out sessions at the conference, students debated their viewpoints about various topics, Haataja said.
“Working with other students I did not know at all for the entire day at the leadership conference was a great experience,” Raisanen said. “Everyone was able to openly express their ideas and opinions, since we did not have previous knowledge of the other individuals.”
Much of what is discussed at the conference deals with knowing one’s own personal core values, and how those values affect one’s decision-making, Flick noted.
“As a leader, I think it also helps them to develop a better sense of themselves and what they stand for,” Flick said.
Students debated topics from the presidential debates to abortion laws, Haataja noted.
They also went over different scenarios about what they would do if they saw one of their friends doing something inappropriate, she added.
“We were able to talk through situations that are sometimes seen at the high school level, such as seeing a classmate cheat on a test,” Raisanen noted. “It was very helpful and beneficial for us students to be able to talk to each other to get an idea how to correctly face certain situations we may see.”
She noted that hearing other students’ stories about situations they have faced, and how they have dealt with them, was helpful.
For instance, Haataja had a girl in her session who attended an all-girls private school. The girl noted how difficult it was to speak up and have opinions in the school, where everybody was expected to think the same way.
It made Haataja realize she should not be scared to express her viewpoints because everyone has opinions about different topics, she said.
Chvojicek noted that he learned the value of morals in decision-making.
“I never realized how much ethics and morals play into making decisions,” he said.
For instance, in one of his groups, he met another student whose FFA was having problems with participants not doing their best, but just getting by.
The group discussed what could be done, such as kicking people off the FFA team due to lack of effort, and if each of the options were right or wrong.
Schmidt noted how neat it was to meet students from all over Minnesota at the conference, and how diverse they were.
At DC, most of the students have grown up together, and share the same opinions and viewpoints, he said.
Attending the conference made him realize he needed to consider other viewpoints more often.
Flick plans to have those who attended the conference share what they learned with the DC Leadership Academy.
“I think what they learned is already being used in the various groups and activities they are a part of, as well as in their roles as students in the classroom,” Flick noted, adding that she will begin working to develop leaders from this year’s juniors in the spring.
Schmidt is involved in wrestling and football at DC; Chvojicek is involved in jazz band, National Honor Society, football, baseball, and basketball; and Haataja and Raisanen are involved in volleyball.