Saturday, November 13, 2004
There was no school Friday for most Routt County students, but that didn't prevent a group of two dozen high school juniors and seniors from convening for a lesson in leadership and character.
For the second consecutive year, the Routt County Leadership Symposium brought together a selected group of high school students for a day-long seminar on issues ranging from integrity to peer pressure.
Sponsored by Steamboat Springs residents Harriet and Fry Freiberger, the symposium featured two U.S. Air Force Academy leaders who specialize in the area of character development, Mark Hyatt, director emeritus of the Academy's Center for Character Development and Maj. Jeff Kozyra, an Academy instructor.
Twenty-eight students, including two from Colorado Springs, were invited to attend the symposium on the recommendations of their school principals, Fry Freiberger said. Most of the Routt County students attend Steamboat Springs High School, Soroco High School or The Lowell Whiteman School.
The morning began with ice-breaking activities geared toward encouraging open dialogue among the participants, who were split into groups of five or six students and an adult supervisor.
Using group activities and discussions to create a friendly and comfortable atmosphere, the symposium addressed the meaning of integrity, profiled the personalities of each participant and discussed trust-building and peer pressure, among other topics.
But the underlying theme of the day was clear.
"Today is all about leadership," said Hyatt, who also serves as president of The Classical Academy group of charter schools in Colorado Springs. "I told them they're the future leaders of their communities, families, churches, corporations and community services."
Teaching issues of leadership and character needs to happen at a young age to develop citizens who display integrity and honesty throughout their lives, he said.
"I think it's even more important to do it for high school kids than it is for college kids," Hyatt said. "The earlier you start this dialogue of being a better citizen and leader, the better."
Most leadership failures are character failures, he said, pointing to recent corporate corruption cases such as that involving energy giant Enron.
"I think America wants accountability from its leaders," Hyatt said. "If you mess up, you fess up."
Providing the students with the opportunity to discuss and think about difficult situations now will leave them better prepared to make the right decisions when the time comes, Hyatt said.
The message appeared to get through for at least some of the students.
"It makes you think about what you want to be in life and how you want to act," Soroco High School junior Katie Schalnus said. "Kids want to be popular, but you need to stand up for what's right."
"It gets us thinking," fellow Soroco junior Krysten Zywicki said.
The Freibergers contacted Hyatt about the possibility of bringing a leadership symposium to Routt County after attending leadership conferences elsewhere in the state. Intrigued, Hyatt and others adjusted aspects of the Air Force Academy's program to fit the needs of high school students.
So far, so good, Harriet Freiberger said. But the real test of the program will come down the road, when today's high school students become the leaders of communities like Steamboat Springs.
"I want this to be a good place 50 years from now," she said. "They're going to be in charge. They're the future."
-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org