More than 160 Catholic middle school students recently received an introductory course on what it takes to be a leader.
A “Student Leadership Day,” sponsored by The Association of Catholic Student Councils (TACSC), was held Feb. 4 at Mater Dei Catholic High School. Trained by TACSC Associate Program Manager Anthony Boulahoud, some 25 Mater Dei Catholic students demonstrated their own leadership abilities by preparing and presenting all of the day’s activities.
The high-schoolers led the middle-schoolers through three modules that used games, role-playing and other enjoyable learning methods to help the younger students hone their leadership potential.
Participants included St. Pius X School, which sent its entire fifth, sixth and seventh grade classes, as well middle school students from St. Rose of Lima School, St. Charles School, St. Michael Academy, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School and St. Mary School (Escondido).
This was the fourth annual Student Leadership Day in the Diocese of San Diego. For the first two years, it was held at St. Pius X School, before moving to the Mater Dei Catholic campus last year. For all four years, it has been Mater Dei students who have run the event.
The Student Leadership Day at Mater Dei is just one of the 20 middle school leadership days and about 10 high school leadership days that will be sponsored this year by TACSC, which is active in Orange County, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Phoenix, as well as San Diego.
Boulahoud said the event’s purpose is “to train the next generation of leaders and teach them the importance of communicating effectively, strategic planning, servant leadership, and being a mentor.”
“We train moral leaders who positively impact the world,” he said.
Kathleen Patacsil, resource teacher at St. Pius X School, brought the program to San Diego four years ago after her son’s positive experience attending a TACSC summer camp in Los Angeles. She was among the adults supervising this year’s Student Leadership Day at Mater Dei Catholic.
“TACSC Leadership Days provide a fun, positive way to develop important skills that [these students] will need in the future,” she said. “The modules this year focused on time management, team-building, planning activities, and working on an activity to help others.”
Anamaria Anthony, theology department chair at Mater Dei Catholic, has served as the school’s TACSC liaison ever since Patacsil brought the program to her attention and asked her if Mater Dei would be interested in participating. She said that, while the day is devoted to basic leadership skills that are applicable in all areas of life, the servant leadership aspect gives it “a Catholic tone.”
Acknowledging that many people take a “top-down” approach to leadership, Anthony said the Student Leadership Day teaches middle-schoolers “how to flip the pyramid,” disassociating leadership from “ego and power.” For young Catholics, there’s also some- thing inspiring about receiving leadership lessons from their peers, Anthony said.
She explained that, when adults tell them about leadership, it might seem like information they won’t need until far off in the future when they enter the business world. But the high-schoolers show them that they can start being leaders right now in their everyday lives and activities. Anthony said they gain confidence as they start to think, “If a high school student can do this, I can do this.”
“I think that there are students who really never considered that they may have a gift of leadership, and this … sparks something in them, like, maybe I could do this,” she said, explaining that being a faithful Catholic means “to get involved in your community, and bring some seeds to plant, and be part of the process of cultivating seeds that have been planted.”
Sophia Jordan, a senior at Mater Dei Catholic, has helped to lead the Student Leadership Day for the past four years and previously attended a TACSC summer conference. She described her involvement with TACSC as “an amazing opportunity.”
Jacelle Oliveros, a freshman at Mater Dei Catholic, was among the first-time leaders at this year’s Student Leadership Day. “I was able to teach people around my age about leadership in a way that is different from the traditional classroom,” she said. “Despite being the one teaching the students, I also learned more about myself while doing so.”
Boulahoud described the organization’s peer-to-peer model as “the secret sauce”: College-age TACSC staff train high school students, who then teach middle-schoolers. “We would love for students to continue their leadership journey and become involved,” said Boulahoud, who attended a TACSC program in summer 2008 that “really positively impacted” him. “You don’t have to be in an elected office to make change. Everyone brings their strengths to the table, and we teach our students the importance of communication, collaboration and cooperation.”
For more information, visit tacsc.org.
Originally posted in The Southern Cross