My three teenagers are straight-A students, which means they can tell you all about Julius Caesar, how to find the area of a polygon, and the symbolism in To Kill A Mockingbird. But how strong is their emotional intelligence? How effective is their communication when they’re not using Snapchat? Can they lead others? Do they have grit?
In a world where more and more work is being automated (yes, the robots really are coming), counter-intuitively, soft-skills matter more than ever before. And specifically, leadership skills are the most in demand. One high school in Longmont, Colorado, demonstrates that teaching traditional academics and real-world interpersonal skills don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Since 2009, Silver Creek High School has offered the Silver Creek Leadership Academy to students who want to develop leadership competencies through real-world, hands-on projects. Each year approximately 120 freshmen are accepted into the program, which lasts all four years.
The curriculum focuses on developing leaders in “The Big 6”: respect, teamwork, vision, critical and creative thinking, ethics, and communication. These domain areas were developed after conducting multiple interviews with successful company CEOs and presidents, as well as mid-level managers in various industries. “Take a minute and truly think about the benefit of talking about these six items in a classroom setting for four years,” said Erick Finnestead, Silver Creek High School’s Principal. “This course of action has long reaching effects, and can set a teenager on a course that will give them advantages that will extend throughout their entire life.”
In addition to classroom work, the Academy also partners with local companies to pair students with successful professionals. More than teaching them the steps to success in a classroom, it provides a more realistic view of success in the real world and provides a possible mentor for those looking to pursue particular career paths.
While the students are held to higher academic and extracurricular standards, the program is about more than just instilling discipline. As Finnestead explains, “The first key leadership principle that students learn is that ‘Leader’ is not a title, but a lifestyle, a responsibility. Helping our students learn early that being in charge does not make you a leader is a key component of success. The world of work requires both hard and soft skills, those that are progressing and thriving in leadership positions must demonstrate both.”
Capstone projects enable Academy students to apply their newfound abilities in the community. Carrie Adams, a Silver Creek Leadership Academy Coordinator said, “Not only does this promote the ideal of leadership, but it gives students concrete experiential learning opportunities that sets them apart for future internship, career, and additional leadership programs.” Student capstone projects in the 2017-2018 school year include the organization of a golf tournament to raise funds for melanoma research, a nonprofit raising awareness of human trafficking, and the development of a cyber-security curriculum to be used throughout the district.
As is the case with most high school programs, often the benefits of their training only become clear years later. “Our alumni return to tell us often that they did not realize how much they learned in the program until they were away and working with students who did not have the leadership opportunities they did,” Adams shared. “Many alumni serve as ambassadors in their respective post-secondary environments and continue to engage in civic and social opportunities.”
Upon completion, the Silver Creek Leadership Academy graduates realize that their journey has only just begun. “We truly believe our students and staff are lifelong learners,” Finnestead said. “And we know that learning takes place in all kinds of situations. We want our students to understand they have a responsibility to be agents of change in our society and to value and respect diversity.”
Silver Creek High School proves that it’s possible to instill community values and leadership skills at a very young age. It’s a model other communities should look at in order to secure our shared future.