Leadership program helps students by stressing service

December 21, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

You offer to show a new student around your middle school. What might be the consequences?

Janissa Battle, 12, an Owen Brown Middle School seventh-grader, realizes that even the most gracious acts aren't immune from ridicule at this early stage of adolescence.

"Your friends or peers might make fun of you," says Janissa, a participant in the Columbia Association's Teen Leadership Program. "The good consequence is you might make a new friend."

Bobbie Whyte, director of the new after-school program, adds another viewpoint. "If I was the new student, I'd feel grateful," she says.

The program, launched this school year, is intended to teach middle school students leadership skills, make them aware of the value of community service and ways they can contribute and enhance their self-esteem and confidence. Seven students are participating in the program, which has capacity for 15 students, at the Columbia Association Teen Center in Oakland Mills village.

Janissa says her mother recommended the program to her.

"She doesn't want me following other people, but to speak up, be my own person and don't do what everyone else is doing," Janissa says. "She wants me to be a leader."

The students are picked up at their schools by program supervisors and meet for several hours on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. They participate in problem-solving and communication exercises, work on projects for groups such as Columbia Harvest for the Hungry and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, learn skills such as baby-sitting and planning a budget, take trips to homeless shelters and food banks and do homework.

The leadership sessions complement the Youth Club, an after-school program started last year for middle school students on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The Youth Club, which has 14 students, designates time for homework and is oriented toward activities and games.

"We added Teen Leadership because some parents asked for a full-week program with a different focus," says Ms. Whyte, who has 12 years of experience teaching in middle schools. "A lot of parents were saying there weren't good options after school."

Kathy Spicer, who works full-time as an accountant, was pleased to find an alternative to hiring a nanny to watch her son, Alex Vlahov, 12, an Owen Brown Middle School seventh-grader, or leaving him unsupervised at home. She says there's a "great need" for programs such as the Teen Center's to provide options for working parents.

"I like the idea of Alex getting together with other teens," she says. "The activities they've been doing help develop a civic attitude toward the community rather than just play time. I've been real pleased with the program."

Alex is well aware that he's in Teen Leadership because his mother doesn't want him home alone, and says much of what he's learned so far has been "review." But he does allow that the program has helped "refresh our memories about what's going on in the world, about homeless people."

The Teen Leadership Program costs $32 per month, and the Youth Club $48 per month. The Teen Center is partially financed by the state Juvenile Services Administration, Ms. Whyte says.

The Teen Center is at the Oakland Mills Village Center, 5851 Robert Oliver Place. For information, call 992-3726.

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