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Teens Learn Leadership Skills

Six Ashburn students participate in the National Young Leaders State Conference to focus on honing their leadership skills.

Corrine Barnett, an eighth-grade student at Farmwell Station Middle School in Ashburn, has big dreams for her future. She intends to be the first female president of the United States.

And with the leadership skills she and five other Loudoun students picked up at the National Young Leaders State Conference (NYLSC) held in Tysons Corner, last week, she is on her way.

NYLSC is a four-day intensive seminar program wherein eighth- and ninth-grade students participate in group activities designed to help them gain a better understanding of their different leadership styles, strengths and weaknesses and how to hone them.

"The purpose of the program is to offer lessons in leadership that students of this caliber don't receive in a normal classroom setting," said conference director Grant Burrall.

Some of the concepts covered during the seminar include appreciation for diversity, team building, conflict resolution, group dynamics, leadership techniques, public speaking, project management and responsible decision making.

"I think the lessons that they're learning, while not taught in a classroom, are essential to life. It's these types of things that are the oil to everyday life, that allow people to reach for more, achieve more working in teams and groups," Burrall said.

STUDENTS DON'T listen passively to lectures while they're at the conference either. Burrall said they are challenged to apply what they learn by participating in activities like a "speak-out" where they can debate issues that are important to them. A talent showcase that they must coordinate and execute themselves provides another opportunity to reinforce new skills.

Jennifer Weyman, another Farmwell Station eighth-grader, said she felt the program would give her a clearer direction of what she wants to do with her life.

"I want to go back home with a better feel of what I want to do when I grow up. It'll help me determine my strengths and weaknesses and help me set goals for the future," she said.

After just day one, Weyman said she realized she needed to work on her problem solving and active listening skills.

To participate, students had to be nominated by a teacher or mentor in their community and were selected based on a demonstrated strong leadership capability and high academic achievement, Burrall said. About 220 students from all over the Washington, D.C.-metro area participated in this year's state conference.

ANGELA ROGALSKI, a former language arts instructor at Farmwell Station, nominated Weyman, Barnett and eighth-graders Kevin McGaughey, Craig Schneider and Ben Matthews, all three of whom attend Farmwell Station. Broad Run High School freshman Nicole Bruno, who also participated, was nominated by her former eighth-grade teacher at Farmwell Station, John Puterio.

Rogalski said her choices were based on a tremendous work ethic, often going above and beyond assigned course work, despite obstacles they faced at home and school.

Plus, she said, it allowed them a chance to branch out, see and interact with students from different backgrounds and cultures and learn something new about themselves and others.

"I really thought a lot of these students had leadership potential but didn't quite realize it about themselves and I wanted them to be able to use this opportunity to realize those skills and hone them so they could use them in the future," Rogalski said. "In middle school, students are just beginning to learn things about themselves and this was a good way for them to find out their quality and potential as leaders."