HALEYVILLE - Students across every school in Marion and Winston counties are experiencing their first joint youth leadership academy, training to become the leaders of tomorrow through community service.
The Winston/Marion Youth Leadership Academy is comprised of 20 high school juniors, or two each from 10 high schools throughout Marion and Winston counties, organizers say.
Supervisor for Marion County Schools Jason Bourland said that the Marion/Winston Youth Leadership Academy is providing young student leaders with opportunities to network.
Select students from ten local high schools in Marion and Winston Counties will have the chance to build leadership resources by networking with other student, business, government, and educational leaders.
Bourland explained that students will be participating in leadership development training and leadership based field trips.
The academy had its roots with Points of Light Youth Leadership (PLYL), which in the past taught students leadership skills through community service. It was one of the requirements the City of Haleyville had to make when Haleyville was selected as an Alabama Community of Excellence in 2005. The academy will allow students to have educational opportunities by participating in community service projects, as well as informative field trips.
“The mission statement for PLYL is to develop leadership through community service in our youth so they can make an impact locally, statewide and nationally,” said Haleyville High School teacher Neina Middleton, also a sponsor for PLYL.
Faculty at HCS went to PLYL training several years ago and conducted 16 youth leadership camps, noted Middleton.
“It is a way of teaching our children to be leaders by giving back and being community servants,” Middleton pointed out.
“Look around us—most of the leaders in our community are servant leaders. We all volunteer in other organizations to make the community stronger. That is a part of leadership, giving what talents we have back to our community, our state and our nation in a servant way,” noted Middleton.
Membership in the academy was limited to juniors, who had an opportunity to complete an application by the Dec. 5 deadline. Students were then selected by school administrators, counselors and teachers and approved by the academy’s leadership committee for participation.
The type of student administrators, as well as committee members were seeking through applications included, but were not limited to, those who are open to new ideas about learning, involvement in extracurricular activities, being sensitive to diversity, willing to make a time and energy commitment, a team player while still an individual and a student recognized by his or her teachers and peers, as being a leader.
“We remove them from the school setting,” said Middleton, “so they have to learn to bond and network because networking is such an important part of leadership in the business world.”
Students chosen from throughout the two counties for participation began the program with an orientation meeting on Friday, Dec. 14, at the conference room of Alabama Power in Haleyville, where they met each other and learned about their scheduled trips and activities. These will include a leadership retreat Jan. 9-10 at Camp McDowell.
The academy will visit various industries on Feb. 13. Students will learn about local government and financial literacy on March 13 at the Alabama Power building.
One of the highlights of the academy will be a field trip to the state capitol in Montgomery on April 3, allowing the students to meet their legislators and see them in action on the floors of the House and Senate.
Alabama Power in Haleyville was selected as the central meeting location for departure to events and for important meetings of the academy. All participants must have their own transportation to Alabama Power and must attend all of the required events and trips in order to graduate from the academy on May 8.
The Northwest Alabama Council of Local Governments is actually the driving force behind the academy, noted Dr. Bill Bishop, director of administrative services for Haleyville City Schools, who is Winston County’s coordinator for the academy. NACOLG received support from Winston County’s legislative delegation, which is also in full support of the youth initiative, officials said.
These supporters and others have so far raised $12,000 toward the academy, according to Bishop.
“Even more money is being raised,” he said, indicating that none of the schools were paying any costs toward this academy.
“This is a way to tie our counties together. This is a way to bring our schools together. This is a way to bring our students together,” Bishop said.
Melinda Weaver, business office manager for Alabama Power in Haleyville, noted the program is similar to the adult leadership program sponsored by the Haleyville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Weaver noted she was proud Alabama Power was one of the partners in bringing youth leadership skills back through this academy.
“It’s a great opportunity for students to come together,” Weaver said. “They will be learning communication skills, leadership skills, teamwork.”
Weaver noted the field trip students will take to Montgomery to visit their senators and representatives is crucial because, “our students are our next generation of leaders,” she said.
“It’s a win-win for the students, as well as our communities,” Weaver added. “I am excited about having both counties involved in the project.
“It’s the first that I know of where we have had a joint leadership program with both counties,” Weaver continued.
Middleton noted students’ membership in the academy is an excellent item to put on their resumes.
“Having structured leadership training is very impressive on resumes and it ought to give them a heads-up when they prepare for their careers,” Middleton pointed out.
Bishop added, “It’s also something they can put on college applications, scholarship applications and other things that will be highly beneficial because it is a structured leadership program.”
The Winston/Marion County Youth Leadership Academy is currently a pilot program, but hopefully will be extended based on its success, school officials said.
“These senators and representatives want to sustain this,” Middleton said. “They want to sustain it and keep it going.
“There is a need. We’ve got to instruct our kids and teach them leadership because not only is it going to be conducive to their careers, but the betterment of our communities. We have to give back,” Middleton added.
“We do it because we believe in our children, and we believe in our counties,” Bishop added.
The academy is operated under the umbrella of entities and organizations such as Alabama Power, Bevill State Community College, Northwest-Shoals Community College, First National Bank, Traders and Farmers Bank, Haleyville Area Chamber of Commerce, Hamilton Area Chamber of Commerce, Winfield Chamber of Commerce, Haleyville City Schools, Marion County Schools, Winfield City Schools, Winston County Schools, Northwest Alabama Council of Local Governments and Northwest Alabama Economic Development Alliance.