A knack for taking the lead

Mayfield Woods Middle eighth-grader attends leadership program in Washington

September 24, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Two years ago, when she started sixth grade at Mayfield Woods Middle School, Katelyn Haarer noticed that the outside of the school was marred by graffiti.

Katelyn was in the school's gifted-and-talented program, and had to do a research project. She and six other kids decided to focus on the vandalism, said Charla Phillips, the school's gifted-and-talented-research teacher.

Last year, the group, led by Katelyn, persuaded school officials to place lighting along the back of the school to discourage vandals. The lights went up this summer, Phillips said. "She absolutely has taken a strong lead with this group," Phillips said.

That leadership quality is why Katelyn, 12, was nominated by her teachers to be in a program called People to People World Leadership Forum, part of an initiative begun by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956.

The program is for middle-school pupils with leadership abilities. Participants spend a week in Washington meeting with government leaders and visiting historic sights and museums.

During the week, they are led through discussions and workshops about American history and the accomplishments of individuals who have made a difference. Katelyn attended Sept. 11 through 17.

"We don't nominate very many," Phillips said.

Katelyn was first nominated when she was in fifth grade. Katelyn's mother gathered information, but, "at that point we decided she was young," Judy Haarer said.

But in sixth grade, her social studies teacher, Ken MacGregor, nominated her again. Once again, the Haarers collected material. And by the time they had filled out all the documents and answered all the questions, Katelyn was ready.

About 400 middle-schoolers throughout the United States attended the forum, one of several weeklong sessions held every spring and fall. "It was very tiring, but they packed in a lot of information, and we had fun while we did it," Katelyn said.

She spent the week based in a hotel near Washington, living with two roommates. "One was from Michigan and one was from Maine," Katelyn said. "The girl from Maine, unlike here, had 30 people in her grade."

As it turned out, Katelyn attended the program during the 50th anniversary festivities, and Tom Brokaw was the featured speaker at a dinner. Katelyn walked up to the anchorman and shook his hand, she said.

Katelyn hasn't decided what she wants to be when she grows up. For now, her answer is "taller."

The week in Washington didn't persuade her to become a politician. "After all that, I don't know if I'm really interested in politics," she said.

Katelyn said a highlight of the trip was going to the Holocaust Museum. "It's such an interesting topic," she said. "Even though it's not the best thing to keep your happy day going, you have to see and learn about the past to realize it can't happen again and to stop it."

She also liked visiting Jamestown, she said, where she saw how Native Americans, Spaniards and the English all lived together.

Katelyn seems to get some of her leadership qualities from being the youngest in a family of four, said her mother. Her siblings are 18, 19 and 23. "She was always very competitive," Judy Haarer said.

The siblings don't live at home any more, but when they did, the dinner table was a place for lively discussion, Judy Haarer said.

Katelyn also followed her brother Adam's lead and took up soccer. She is captain of her Soccer Association of Columbia -- Howard County travel soccer team. She also plays guitar.

"She's quite the scholar and athlete and musician," said Judy Haarer.

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