• Oct. 8, 2021

    USCHS Leadership Academy evolves with pandemic

    Leadership AcademyThroughout the last 18 months, school districts across the world have been challenged to reimagine programs and activities to safely operate during a global pandemic. Upper St. Clair High School’s Leadership Academy is no exception.

    In pre-COVID times, the high school’s Leadership Academy was offered as a week-long summer program. Throughout four summers, students would progress through phases one through four, learning and practicing new leadership skills that build upon the previous years’ experiences.

    In 2020, like most in-person programs, the entire Leadership Academy was canceled. During the summer of 2021, the school was only able to offer phase one of the Leadership Academy. Phases two, three and four were postponed.

    Beginning this fall, students who have completed phase one or two of the Leadership Academy have the opportunity to progress in the program and continue their skill development through a newly created School Year Residency. The initiative is led by USCHS teachers Giulia Gouker and Russ Hoburg. 

    “School Year Residencies are a series of in-school workshops delivered during the academic year to review and build upon concepts addressed during summer Leadership Academies,” Mrs. Gouker said. “These workshops scaffold between phases to allow students to continue to develop emerging skills and stay connected as a cohort.”

    A key component of the program is the opportunity for high school students to work with Fort Couch Middle School students.

    “The goal of the Fort Couch partnership is to give high school Leadership Academy students the opportunity to develop lessons and activities around the core values of authentic leadership,” Mrs. Gouker explained. “Through this process, the student leaders demonstrate their understanding of the core values and practice effective communication, while in turn the middle school students are introduced to leadership concepts in an age-appropriate, engaging way.”

    According to Mrs. Gouker, the School Year Residency program provides value for both the high school and middle school students.

    “Having high school students provide programming for middle school students allows the younger students to imagine themselves in similar leadership roles in the future,” she said. “Another benefit of this structure is that middle school students actually see the core values being modeled by their student leaders while they teach.”

    The School Year Residency program’s first visit to Fort Couch Middle School occurred on Monday, Sept. 27. The high school Leadership Academy students coordinated with the seventh-grade English teachers to push-in to their classrooms throughout the day. 

    “Our students developed six mini courses that centered around a particular theme or activity but also include guided reflection to connect the activity with specific core values,” Mr. Hoburg said.

    Fort Couch students had the opportunity to choose from one of the following mini courses that helped to highlight the Leadership Academy’s main core values:

    • Spikeball (Risk Taking)
    • Build-a-Leader (Commitment)
    • Pictionary and Charades (Honesty)
    • Space Stations (Reflection)
    • Handy Handball (Teamwork)
    • No-Sew Blankets (Productivity)

    “It was such a meaningful experience for our seventh graders to connect with high school students and to spend time participating in leadership activities together,” Eliza Luxbacher, seventh grade English teacher, said.

    The Leadership Academy coordinators were enthusiastic about the partnership with Fort Couch and the opportunity to model flexibility.

    “The Fort Couch teachers’ attentiveness and investment in a positive experience for our middle and high school students made the day especially valuable and fun,” Mrs. Gouker said. “We’re so grateful for the time and flexibility as we made our Covid-comeback and used this year as an opportunity to try something new with Leadership Academy. Kudos to our Fort Couch students for being so open and engaged; we hope to see them at our summer Leadership Academy in 2023!”

    Traditionally, USCHS students have the opportunity to attend Leadership Academy throughout four summers. Beginning in phase one, students create a personal mission statement and develop SMART goals. Through this process, they identify and model the core values and beliefs, and explain the meaning of the phase one mantra, “Who you are is how you lead.”

    Phase two explores the themes around visionary and relational leadership. It will be a focal point in the evolution of the Leadership Academy in conjunction with the introduction of the School Year Residencies.

    Phase three builds upon the efforts of phases one and two as students "Make it Happen." It includes a culminating experience as they "Apply knowledge, inspire leadership and change lives.” Students do this through three different options - (1) Upper St. Clair High School: students partner with teacher-facilitators in the planning and delivery of phase 1; (2) a regional experience where students partner with counselors within local agencies that support leadership and development (3) Belize: students partner with teachers in Placencia, Belize. They develop and implement their own curriculum in a week-long experience. All travel is dependent upon the district’s Health & Safety Plan, as well as the partnerships that USCHS has formed with regional and international organizations.