By TRAVIS MORSE firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — MT. VERNON — Attending the Junior National Young Leaders Conference in Washington D.C. this July proved to be a richly rewarding experience for Casey Middle School student Ellen Hoffman.
Hoffman said she gained much from visiting different historic sites such as the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
Plus, she discovered while at a news museum she shares a birthday with John F. Kennedy.
“I liked the memorials and the museums and I loved meeting new friends,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman was one of three Casey students to attend the six-day conference, which featured lectures, guest speakers, team building exercises, and field trips to historic sites. The other two students were Kadin Asbery and Emma Newell.
The students were selected for the trip this past spring by their seventh grade social studies teacher, Randall Knaak. Three other students in Knaak’s class were nominated, but did not go on the trip. The students are now in eighth grade at Casey.
Knaak said he chose the students based on their intelligence, grades, hard work, and leadership abilities.
Asbery, Hoffman, and Newell joined Knaak at the Sept. 18 District 80 Board of Education meeting to give board members an overview of the conference and its myriad benefits.
“We did a lot of teamwork activities to help us work together,” Newell said to the board. “I made a whole group of friends.”
Knaak said the trip presented a unique opportunity. The conference drew hundreds of middle school students from across the country.
“They practice and apply leadership skills, gain a first-hand look at real world leadership, and they get to experience present-day Washington through the lens of American history,” Knaak said. “They (also) make long-lasting connections and friendships.”
The conference focused on developing six specific leadership traits, including character, communication, goal-setting, problem-solving, respect, and teamwork.
Knaak said the Young Leaders program dovetails nicely with what his seventh grade students learn about government in class, including lessons on the Constitution, the three branches of government, and more.
“This is an enhanced learning experience from things we’ve already touched on,” Knaak said.
The Junior National Young Leaders Conference is offered annually during the summer by Envision, an experiential education organization. The group’s overall goal is to help students develop leadership, scholarship, and career skills through a number of hands-on programs.
According to the group’s website, over 800,000 young people have taken part in Envision programs since 1985.