By BIANCA MOORMAN, Savannah Morning News
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — As he would stand in the background, shy tenth grader Micah Calhoun wasn’t the one to take the initiative. He just needed the extra push to find his voice and with a new leadership program he has found it.
“What I learned was taking the initiative in situations and being better at communicating about how I feel in certain conditions.”
Calhoun is one of several boys participating in the Leadership Development Initiative (LDI) at Bethesda Academy. The pilot program, which began in August 2021, aims to teach Christian leadership connected to the school’s core values: Love of God, love of learning, and strong work ethic and code of conduct (honor, respect and consideration of others).
The program is two parts: a seminar and 36 Heroes lessons which allow the young men to explore leadership concepts through real-world examples. During the week, students discus servant leadership case studies during the 36 Heroes lessons. After talking about the lessons, the group discuss what they learned, identify any challenges and pinpoint how it is a leadership quality.
The program is open for boys in grades 6-12 who are in the top 10 percent of their classes. Twelve boys, one from each grade, are separated into two groups. Each group has a male and female mentor, who lead the boys on certain leadership topics through non-formal discussions.
The program was created with the help of two interns from the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond.
Rev. George Whitefield founded the school in 1740 as an orphanage with a mission focused on the love of God, a love of learning and a strong work ethic.
Bethesda Academy President Mike Hughes said after the school was used as an orphanage, it was used as school for boys with behavior problems, adding that the school no longer serves that purpose. In 2011, the school was rebranded to focus on college-preparatory learning.
Hughes said the school’s mission is to help young men become productive citizens through academic achievement, athletics, spiritual development and leadership training.
He said all students are required to attend the chapel and academic class, but the leadership program provides an additional way to connect young men with their faith and servant leadership.
Hughes said other schools don’t have the same model, which allows the leadership curriculum to be measurable and replicable. He said if the data shows how the program was a success on students, then the school will expand it.
“We believe as this program progresses, and results become evident, other middle and high schools across the country will adopt this model.”
Program leader and retired U.S. Army Col. Ken Vaughn also wants the program to be used as a model for other schools. He said the goal is for the program to eventually become a school-wide program and they plan to have upperclassmen students who were part of the initial group to serve as mentors to younger ones.
“We have zeroed in on the best kids at the school, and they are leading the way in the transformative process from moving Bethesda from a last resort to something marketable and draw people here because of what we’re doing,” he said.
“We like to be a leadership academy for Christian leaders.”
GOING THROUGH A DAY IN THE PROGRAM
Students begin their day with breakfast as a group and have a daily devotional lesson before diving into leadership. Each Tuesday, students participate in a seminar to discuss a core value such as honor and how it relates to being a leader.
Vaughn said to make it more personable for his students, the group holds discussions on modern day leaders like Tim Tebow and Stephen Curry. They are also taught about servant leadership by helping those in need outside the classroom.
During the first Saturday of the month, the group pack lunches at Christ Church Anglican and delivers meals to children and others in the community. Students who participate will receive course credit and a possible $1,000 scholarship.
Vaughn describes lessons as discussion-based and allows students to give feedback.
In a recent lesson, students learned about bravery. Vaughn said the boys learned about two kinds of bravery: physical and moral. An example of physical leadership, according to Vaughn, was fighting in a war while moral would be more along the lines of standing up for a student being picked on.
10th grader Jayden Holiday said that God describes bravery as someone who is strong, courageous and not afraid. “To overcome your fears and don’t let anything stop you. To don’t let anything get your way.”
Meanwhile, seventh-grader Jadon Turner said the program has taught him how to make decisions without getting angry. “It helps me calm down in certain situations,” he said.
12th grader Chad Grefski said the leadership program inspired him to do more service work at his church, even going as far as creating a leadership group of his own there called, Alpha. He said the program talks about God and investigates how to live a richer life.
“I’m personally looking to see if we can get some stuff going at my church because we have a prayer breakfast on Sundays now,” he said.
All the young men can agree — if it wasn’t for the leadership program, they are unsure of where they would be. “It’s given me the willingness to go ahead and take charge from when things need to be done,” Grefski said.
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