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OCL seniors team with Newark Charter School

Leadership capstone course

OCL seniors team with Newark Charter School to develop youth leadership skills

The University of Delaware leadership senior capstone course, LEAD 490, is the time when organizational and community leadership (OCL) seniors have to prove not only what they know, but prove that they know what to do. 

This spring, the class took on the challenge of working with Newark Charter Junior/Senior High School to coach leadership skills to 10th graders enrolled in the school’s Global Studies Leadership Academy, and to introduce the challenges – and fun – of leadership to sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

Conversations between Karen Stein, associate professor and program director of the organizational and community leadership major, housed in UD’sSchool of Public Policy and Administration, and Lisa Westerfield, global contexts for leadership pathway teacher and curriculum developer at Newark Charter, led to an exchange of exciting ideas: What if the OCL seniors had to prove what they’ve learned by being leadership coaches to the 10th graders in the global studies leadership track? And what if those students learned additional leadership and followership skills by partnering with these OCL seniors on a collaborative project? And what if the project’s challenge was to engage sixth, seventh and eighth graders who have no particular interest in leadership in a leadership event designed just for them? 

The conservations resulted in a new partnership.

To forge the coaching connection, Westerfield opened her leadership classroom once a week to the OCL seniors throughout the spring semester. The seniors had the triple challenge of designing the coaching experience, supplementing but not duplicating Westerfield’s leadership curriculum, and learning how to relate “college-level” leadership knowledge to 10th graders.

However, in addition to acting as leadership coaches, the OCL students were also challenged to productively engage the 10th graders as equal partners in the collaborative process of designing and implementing a leadership event for all Newark Charter sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

Adding to the challenge was that attendance at the event, scheduled for a Saturday morning in May, would be entirely voluntary. As Stein explained to her students, “Leadership is about inspiring a common vision, but you can’t stop there. It’s one thing to have people say they support something; it’s quite another leadership challenge, and it takes hard work, to inspire people to actually participate and personally engage in that vision.”

Honing their own leadership skills, the 10th graders excelled in communicating the vision to the younger Newark Charter students and encouraging their participation. The game-filled LEADAPALOOZA was a resounding success, with most of the attendees echoing sixth grader Hana, who said, “It was so much fun! I highly recommend it!” Sathui, another sixth grader, said “My biggest takeaway is that leadership makes a big difference.” 

Noting the high energy throughout the day, Jodi Salyer, OCL senior, said, “Teaching those kids about being better leaders was just an unbelievable feeling because I knew I made a difference in their lives.”

By all accounts, the new partnership was a resounding success. As Westerfield said of her class, “The chance for NCHS students to participate, help to design, and implement a large endeavor such as a leadership conference has enabled them to move far beyond most students experiences in other schools.” 

Ben Morgenthaler, OCL senior, spoke for the capstone class in saying that "the high school students blew me away with their dedication, innovative ideas, and participation.”

What does the future hold for this partnership? All indications are that this will be a continuing event if Ryan, a seventh grader, has anything to say about it because, according to him, the conference was “the best and coolest thing ever.”

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