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Minority Students Learn Life, Leadership Skills

More than 30 minority students — ranging from sixth-graders to high school students — learned leadership and life skills at a Youth Enrichment Teach-In sponsored by the Chantilly Pyramid Minority Student Achievement Committee last Friday at Chantilly High School.

STUDENTS AND their parents from 21 elementary schools, five middle schools and four high schools could take part in "Foundation for Student Achievement" sessions including "Think College," "First Impressions," "Study Habits and Skills," "Leadership," "Etiquette" and a parent-only session called "High Expectations."

"I was really looking for a leadership class for my sons," says event organizer Ella Thomas, whose twin sons Marcus and Deon, sixth-graders at Willow Springs Elementary, attended the event. "I want them to be leaders, not followers, to do their own thing, to be more independent, to be successful at any task," she said. "We always explain to them they are expected to do more because it's going to be tougher for them, being a minority."

After registration, pizza, and opening remarks by Fran Blair, third vice president of CPMSAC, students rotated between sessions set up in different sections of Chantilly High's gym.

Thomas and co-organizer Karen Young, recruited individuals from throughout the community to discuss building character, confidence and life skills with the youths.

Graduate student Burdette Colemand and undergraduate Dana Hill of George Mason University talked about getting into and going to college.

Vietta Williams, the deputy director of Recruitment for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, told students about being a "true professional" and how to make good impressions.

Stone Middle School math teacher Rae Mitchell hosted a workshop on how to study, especially for elementary school students transitioning to middle school.

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Elmer Brooks talked about being a leader, drawing from his experience during the Cuban Missile Crisis and at NASA. Chantilly High School Assistant Principal Deborah Santmyer gave a workshop on the importance of etiquette.

Mike Levy, a parent representative at his children’s schools, Rachel Carson Middle School and Westfield High as well an active longtime member of CPMSAC, and Mark Richardson, an Attorney at Law, talked with parents about promoting high expectations in their schools and children.

"BASICALLY THE purpose in general was to get kids in to hear various workshops that would enrich them in the topics that were discussed. Some were topics that they hadn't heard anyone speak on," says Young, explaining how the event was designed "to motivate and inspire young people to be leaders, to go to college, and maybe improve their study habits."

Young said she wanted her sons — Coleman, a freshman at Chantilly High and Jordan, a seventh-grader at Rocky Run Middle School — to attend the session presented by their grandfather.

"Though we see him often, they don't normally hear him speak like he did there," she says. "My father is a leader. And I wanted them to hear that side of him, not the everyday grandfather type of conversation.” Gen. Brooks drew on his experience during the Cuban Missile Crisis, as commander of a 5,000-member strategic missile wing during the Cold War, and as his responsibility for space communications at NASA.

Mackenzie Peterson, a sixth-grader from Floris Elementary, came with classmate Jessie Bur and together they attended the “First Impressions,” “Leadership,” and “Etiquette” sessions — her favorite.

"It was because she didn't give a long, drawn-out speech," Mackenzie explains, talking about how Santmyer taught them table manners, proper introductions, and telephone etiquette with role play.

"IT'S THAT old saying, 'perception is reality,'" explained Mackenzie's mother Kerrie, who attended the event with her daughter. "It's all part of social skills and growing up to be a positive and productive citizen — It's what every parent struggles with. It's such a challenge."

“It’s very important when they go into the job road,” explains Wanda Tanks-Gregory as her Rocky Run Middle School seventh-grade son Malcolm gets more pizza. “It reinforces some of the values we try to teach at home.”

Visit CPMSAC on the Web at www.cpmsac.org or call 703-968-2471.