Eleven years ago, a program was developed at Christ Lutheran School as a way for students to sharpen their leadership skills and become more involved in the community. Suzanne Black, who is now assistant principal at CLS, started the program as an opportunity for students who were unable to join the National Junior Honor Society.
At the start, Black and a couple of parents got together and held meetings for students during lunch hour. Black stayed on as coordinator for five years; she was also a teacher at CLS.
“I really liked engaging with the kids. I liked giving them ownership of their service projects and watching them realize their capabilities. Giving them the opportunity to do something they didn’t know they could do was the best part,” Black said.
The program was led by a few different CLS staff members over the years, until Megan Gotshall arrived in 2015. Gotshall – a CLS alumna – was hired specifically to run the Lutheran school’s leadership and community outreach programs.
The Leadership Program has proven to be a massive success as students eagerly joined and created their own projects to help out in the community, with the ultimate goal of grooming their leadership skills.
Students in sixth to eighth grade are able to apply for the club if they want to grow in communication, confidence, humility and listening skills. The application requires a letter of recommendation and an essay about who the student admires. Once they are accepted, they also sign a contract to remind them of their new responsibilities.
There are 65 students in the group. Monthly meetings are held with guest speakers, from professional athletes to single moms in recovery to refugees.
Some of the past speakers include a veteran who was at the Pentagon on 9-11, Katie Cosmas from Team Taylor, Firefighter Dave Phelps and Phoenix Police Officer Jason Schechterle. At the end of the year, the students participate in an all-ages alumni panel where people who went to CLS come and share their stories.
“Every person has a story to tell and we can learn something important from every person that we meet,” Gotshall said. “I love watching the students’ faces when they hear someone’s story. Sometimes the stories are hard to hear, but are really impactful.”
Students in Leadership Group earn service hours every semester by exploring different organizations and completing a service project that affects the community in some way.
“I love when the students join in on a service project and at first, they’re unsure about it and then at the end they talk about how impactful the project was and how it surprised them,” Gotshall said. “I really love seeing them step out of their comfort zone and learn and grow.”
One of the service projects is the annual Veterans Day Breakfast that is hosted on campus, where more than 50 veterans come and share their stories. They also partake in an Adopt-A-Family event every holiday season where they get together and fill stockings for less fortunate families at the Weldon House, as well as helping out at March’s Food for Kidz Packathon.
“One of my favorite things is watching the students get excited about planning a project. When they volunteer somewhere and learn that they can do it and actually love it, they want to continue to get involved,” Gotshall said.
Once students complete their service hours, they fill out a “service log” and take time to reflect on their projects. Gotshall also enlisted the help of six junior high teachers to help lead with devotion and prayers at the start of the meetings as a way for students to have multiple role models.
In the near future, Gotshall and the Leadership Group will be launching a Senior Leaders Program, where students will plan and host meetings for those in second through fifth grade.