Students bring leadership skills back from camp

Staff Writer

By lynn k. barra

Students bring leadership
skills back from camp

MONROE — Taking a hike took on a whole new meaning for six Monroe High School students recently when they participated in a youth leadership program in Stokes Forest, Branchville.

The students attended "Camp Anytown," an intensive one-week summer program sponsored by the National Conference for Community and Justice, formerly known as the National Conference of Christians and Jews. The leadership program, which started in the early 1950s, offers high school students from across the country the opportunity to improve leadership skills through a direct exchange of ideas and opinions about gender and race bias with other students in their state.

The goal of the program, which is in its fourth year at the high school, is to help students learn how to identify their own biases by meeting and interacting with other young adults who are different from themselves.

"We’re coming back to share our experiences," said Monroe student Michelle Jodon, who returned along with five other students from Stokes Forest on Aug. 11. The students opened the school’s three-day Falcon Leadership Youth camp workshop Aug. 15 by introducing themselves to the approximately 100 fellow high school students who participated in last week’s three-day workshop at the school. The workshop, which is an extension of the experiences of the students who attended Camp Anytown, is the first in a series of workshops that will be held through the next academic year, according to Caren Castaldo, a high school substance-abuse awareness counselor and one of the 11 staff members supervising the workshop.

"We teach them how to become leaders," said Castaldo, who explained that, in Monroe, "we bring [the experiences from the camp] back to our leadership program. That’s what everybody is supposed to do. We have different activities here. We have a very structured schedule. One of them is our stereotyping program. It could be ‘jock,’ it could be ‘nerd,’ or it could be, ‘I have AIDS.’ We give the students different labels for stereotypes and have them learn ways in which to treat one another."

New school’s Superintendent Dr. Ralph Ferrie, along with Board of Education President Joseph Homoki, attended the opening of the workshop, and each spoke to the students about the importance of both leadership and tolerance.

"A true leader has the confidence to stand alone," Ferrie said, "the courage to make tough decisions and the compassion to listen to the deeds of others. He or she does not set out to lead, but becomes one by quality of his or her intent or actions, and the integrity of his or her intent."

He also added that, "a good decision now is usually better than a perfect decision later on."

The workshops were open to all students in the school district.