New academy aims to create young leaders

BROOKINGS – The youth are the leaders of tomorrow, but they need to learn how to think like leaders now, which is what the Brookings Youth Leadership Academy will help them do, said Sarah Meusburger, one of the organizers.

The Leadership Academy is for kids who are currently in sixth, seventh and eighth grades in any area community, Meusburger said. The weekly sessions will begin June 4, meeting from 10-11 a.m. every Tuesday, and run for 10 weeks at the Brookings Public Library. Snacks will be served.

The number of students is limited to those that can comfortably fit in the space at the library. As of Tuesday, 10 have signed up.

“It is no cost; being provided by the Brookings Public Library, we want to make it open to as many people as we possibly can,” she said.

To register for the Academy, contact Meusburger at brookingsyouthleadership@gmail.com or the Brookings Public Library at 605-692-9407. Registration deadline is March 1.

What is it?

This is the first time Brookings Youth Leadership Academy will be offered, Meusburger said.

“Leadership is defined in so many different ways, but really, anybody can be a leader,” Meusburger said. 

“I think that really boils down to just the choices that they make every day. Are they demonstrating compassion? Are they helping the people that they know? Are they taking an opportunity to get involved with their community?” she said.

The Leadership Academy will help the kids look at the decisions they make every day and decide if those choices are good ones or not.

Each week, a member of the community will come and speak to the students on the various aspects of leadership and how it affects everyday life.

Some of the speakers who are already committed to speak are Brookings Mayor Keith Corbett; Brookings County Sheriff Marty Stanwick; Heidi Gullickson, executive director of Brookings Area United Way; Brad Wermers, president of Banner Associates; Monica Jorgenson, youth counselor at Sioux Valley School District; Leah Brink, student/intern program manager at Daktronics; and Kas Williams, interim diversity director at South Dakota State University.

“I think there’s a lot of value to bringing in community leaders to talk about their perspectives and their experience of why these different aspects of leadership are so important,” Meusburger said.

Some of the topics covered will be:

• Who are leaders?

• What character traits make a leader?

• Importance of identifying goals and working through challenges;

• Importance of recognizing stress and managing stress in a healthy way;

“For example, one of the topics that I’m very excited about is the importance of being able to walk away from situations and people that are making poor choices or influencing you in a negative way,” Meusburger said.

Stanwick will talk about things he’s seen, advice for the kids, and “just being able to recognize when they’re in a bad situation and try and get themselves out of that,” Meusburger said.

“With the age group that this program is designed for, none of the topics that we’re talking about are going to be brand new. They’ve heard of these things before,” she added.

The sessions will consist mainly of group discussion, but each of the speakers will have the freedom “to engage the group in whichever way they feel is most appropriate,” Meusburger said.

That could include hands-on activities, an exercise of reading a story and discussing it, or hearing personal experiences from the speakers. 

She thinks having different speakers with various stories and styles every week will keep the kids engaged.

Meusburger promised there would be no tests or homework, and no speeches or presentations by the students, but she will be assembling a leadership binder full of materials, quotes, articles and other information the students can keep, read and think over. 

“After a session, maybe it will initiate a conversation with them and their parents (or) a teacher,” Meusburger said.

The idea behind it

The idea of the Brookings Youth Leadership Academy grew from a strategic planning meeting last fall of the Brookings Public Library’s Board of Trustees, which wanted to make the Brookings Public Library a bigger part of the community. Meusburger is vice president of the board of trustees, but she’s also a mom of three. That led her to combine the ideas of getting the library more involved and helping kids stay on the right path. Meusburger coordinated with library Director Ashia Gustafson and Ali Bruinsma, the library’s young adult services coordinator, to set up the Leadership Academy.

Raising her own kids has given her insight into what they face.

“Every day, they’ve got so many choices that are open to them. Trying to … just get them to think twice about making the best choices for them,” she said. “My oldest is 10; I’m already starting to see where his friends are more influential than Mom and Dad.”

Meusburger decided to use that tendency in the Leadership Academy’s curriculum.

Kids might tune out parents preaching about consequences, but when a family outsider, especially someone who’s seen the results of those consequences first-hand, talks about it, kids might listen a little more closely.

“If my son were to talk face-to-face with Marty Stanwick, for example, about topics that we’ve talked to him about as parents, I just think that will have a different impact on him,” Meusburger said. 

She wants the students to realize that parents aren’t just trying to cramp their kids’ style.

“It’s not just a scare tactic from Mom and Dad. There’s some real substance to how we try to coach our kids to make good choices,” Meusburger said.

The goal

Meusburger hopes the participants will be engaged by the topics and the rotating cast of speakers and “it’ll be something that they look forward to going to and that they’re able to have some takeaways from that.”

The goal is making an impression that lasts long-term.

“To focus on the fact that even as youth in the community, they are such an important part of our community and that even as youth, you can be a leader,” she said.

She wants the students to think more about their own goals for the future and the steps they need to take to get there. 

“Even in small ways, I think the youth in the community can certainly demonstrate leadership in ways that make Brookings even better,” Meusburger said. “Our community’s vitality really does depend upon the youth and the decisions that they make.”

Contact Jodelle Greiner at jgreiner@brookingsregister.com.

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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