Aug. 10, 2023
USCHS Leadership Academy serves more than 125
The Upper St. Clair High School Leadership Academy nurtured the leaders of tomorrow through innovative programming that emphasized authenticity, core values, and practical skills during a week-long experience from July 17-21, 2023. More than 125 students in grades 9-12 attended this year’s program.
“With a commitment to holistic leadership development, the academy equips high school students with the tools they need to excel in an ever-evolving world,” Dr. Dan Beck, USCHS assistant principal, said.
The high school Leadership Academy consists of four sequential phases that for many begin the summer before entering ninth grade. Faculty facilitators include Ben Edwards, Steve Torquato, Chad Erbrecht, Laura Carlino, Shannon Strayer, Jake Reis, Betsy Hess, Erika Valentine, Miranda Jasper, and Jared Nicholson.
“Phase I of the USCHS Leadership Academy lays the cornerstone of this transformative journey, focusing on the cultivation of core values that underpin effective leadership,” Dr. Beck said. “Over the course of an immersive week, students delved into 10 fundamental values, gaining a deep appreciation for their significance and relevance in leadership roles.”
Through a blend of independent and group activities, students not only learned about these core values but also discovered how to integrate them authentically into their leadership styles.
“A pivotal aspect of Phase I was the emphasis on self-awareness and personal growth,” Dr. Beck said. “Activities designed to uncover individual strengths and weaknesses empowered students to lead with authenticity and confidence.”
The guiding mantra of Phase I, "Who you are is how you lead," encapsulates the essence of this foundational stage.
“This principle celebrated the diverse spectrum of leadership styles and reinforced the idea that leadership was deeply personal, rooted in one's values and character,” Dr. Beck said. “Feedback from educators underscored the impact of Phase I.”
Mr. Nicholson highlighted three keynote speakers from Phase 1, including Dr. Amy Pfender, deputy superintendent; Gordon Mathews, Fort Couch Middle School assistant principal; and Andrew Nicholson, Regional Director at Rentokil North America and prior U.S. Army Major.
“Dr. Pfender shared an important message that the leadership journey is not always a straight line, the importance of capitalizing on opportunities, and to not be afraid of change,” Mr. Nicholson said. “Mr. Mathews discussed accountability as a key characteristic in all we do. Everyone makes mistakes; we need to own them, learn from them, and then let them go. Lastly, Andrew Nicholson shared stories of resilience. In order to continue growing and learning, we must put in maximum effort while learning new topics, and we cannot be discouraged if we initially fail. Resilience and commitment will allow us to master the new topics over time."
Among the week’s activities was participation in a ropes course. This experience enhanced students’ leadership skills by fostering teamwork, communication and decision-making in a dynamic and challenging environment.
“Negotiating obstacles and problem-solving during the course required individuals to communicate effectively, delegate tasks, and support one another, thus honing their collaborative abilities,” Dr. Beck said. “Additionally, the high-pressure nature of the ropes course encouraged participants to make quick yet thoughtful decisions, helping them develop confidence in their judgment and leadership capabilities.”
In Phase II, students build upon the strong foundation that was established in Phase I. According to Ms. Jasper, Phase II propels students into a hands-on exploration of servant, visionary, and relational leadership.
“Led by student mentors, participants engaged in comprehensive lessons and activities that brought each leadership style to life,” she said.
Speakers from organizations including the Pennsylvania State Police and Connecting Champions enriched the experience by sharing real-life leadership insights. A highlight of Phase II was the opportunity for students to serve the community through volunteer work at the Greater Washington County Food Bank.
“This hands-on service experience aligned with the principles of visionary and relational leadership, fostering a deep sense of responsibility and empathy,” Ms. Jasper said.
Phase II also challenged students to put their skills to the test through exciting ventures such as a Breakout Escape Room and a mall scavenger hunt, promoting teamwork and problem-solving. The week culminated with students conceptualizing and executing their own projects, partnering with local community organizations including Gilfillan Farms, Westminster Church, and the Upper St. Clair Township Public Library.
In Phase III of the USCHS Leadership Academy, incorporated student leaders into the very heart of the program's design and implementation.
“Recognizing the immense value of peer-to-peer learning and mentorship, Phase III empowered student leaders who had successfully completed previous phases to take on pivotal roles in shaping the curriculum and guiding their peers,” Dr. Beck said.
Student leaders played a central role in developing engaging lessons, crafting meaningful activities, and sharing their own leadership journeys to inspire and guide the next generation of participants.
“By harnessing the expertise and insights of these emerging leaders, Phase III didn’t only offer participants a unique perspective but also fostered a strong sense of community and camaraderie,” Dr. Beck said. “Through this collaborative approach, the USC Leadership Academy continued to push boundaries, ensuring that our students received a truly transformative and holistic leadership education.”
Established in 2010, the week-long summer program was nationally recognized with a Magna Award from the National School Boards Association’s magazine, American School Board Journal, in 2013.