Academic Leadership Institute

My View

What an Opportunity!

I was fascinated by the title and curious, the Academic Leadership Institute.  This is the title of the program that Dennis-Yarmouth District High School conducted this July.  It was for “rising” freshmen on how to be  leaders.  Tall order I thought, making leaders out of freshmen.  But then what better time to do just that. So I called the High School to see if could find out more about the program.  I was invited to talk with Doreen Sugermeyer, high school Physical Education teacher and one of the three DY high school teachers conducting the program. The other two teachers are Shane Brennan, History teacher and Alex Pendelton, Director of the Marching Band and Music teacher. The program is impressive and I feel the need to share what I learned.

The goal of ALI is to develop student leaders who are willing to take on positive, cooperative challenges.  Graduates of Wixon and Mattacheese Middle Schools are able to attend this three week program challenging them to take some risks and move out of their comfort zones, to step into leadership roles and accept responsibility.  The students are made aware of the larger environment in which they live, the ecology, the towns, their histories, the High School and its disciplines.

The program is built around numerous outside activities, field trips, walking and bike tours, kayaking,  modified “survival” activities.  They  went on a Whale Watch, saw a play at the Harwich Junior Theatre, toured the Cape Cod Museum of Art.  They visited historic sites in both Towns:  the Indian Lands Conservation Area , the Judah Baker Windmill, the Quaker Meeting House, the Gorey House and  some historic cemeteries such as the Sea Captains Cemetery in South Dennis and the Ancient Cemetery in Yarmouthport. Local guides gave tours that revealed the culture and history of the Dennis and Yarmouth towns.  They learned about seaport activities and what it was like in a Bass River Town.

The High School library became their home base, where they reflected on the activities, wrote essays, illustrated their experiences in four different media presentations:  Poetry/Prose, Art/Music, Photography-Print/Video and Power Point.  Each composed a presentation using all four medias, which moved them out of their comfort zones by risking new approaches and gaining confidence in their new skills. During the three week program, the class of 18 were divided into two teams.  Competitive activities between the teams enable participants to take on initiatives and move into leadership roles among their peers.

They became acquainted with the school environment and met teachers and students that they will become involved with over the next four years.  Each of them receive a .5 credit for successful completion of the program.

All participants will meet again in the fall to share their experiences of integrating into the new community of the Dennis-Yarmouth High School as freshmen.  On August 13 they serve as guides, along with upper classmates, to the incoming freshmen  .

2009 is the thirteenth year of the ALI program.  Some graduates become school leaders: Aiden Delaney was freshman class president in 2008-09 and will be the sophomore class president in ’09-10 and Emed Kahlil was president of his class for four years until he graduate in 2008.

The program is supported through the parent’s encouragement  as well as a payment of $160.  From what I have heard, it was well worth the expense.  Congratulations to staff, students and all volunteers who helped make this such a success.

Dick McGarr

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