Students take leadership cue

Three-year program inspires future leaders

Highlands Ranch High School junior Cole Miller makes a point during a Dec. 9 session of Youth Leadership Douglas County held at the Lone Tree Civic Center.
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Highlands Ranch High School student Cole Miller already has his career goals firmly in place. Youth Leadership Douglas County will help him get there, he believes.

“I want to be a lobbyist,” the junior said. “This helps most definitely with my interpersonal skills.”

Modeled after the adult Leadership Douglas County program and launched in 2006, YLDC is tailored to high school students. Most of them already have taken leadership roles in their schools, and seek to polish those skills as they prepare for adult life.

Students are chosen as sophomores by members of the junior-year YLDC class. Like the adult program, they participate in monthly day-long, experiential-based programs during their junior and senior years of high school. They learn team building by taking on a ropes course, history through a visit to the Highlands Ranch Mansion, personal finance with trips to car dealerships and furniture stores, and about government with a trip downtown to meet local legislators at the state capitol.

“Each class has a different theme,” program coordinator Kristine Turner said. “For example, personal finance day teaches students about financial independence but also highlights understanding your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Health care day at Sky Ridge (Medical Center) also teaches them the leadership skills of team building: How do you build a strong team that balances people’s strong points and weak areas? How do you get input from all members of a team, even the quiet members?”

As they progress through the 3-year-long program, Turner said she sometimes sees dramatic changes in YLDC participants.

“There are students that start out quiet and reserved,” she said. “Then there are some that are already leaders. They come here and think, `Oh, I have to share the limelight.’ They are learning to lead and also learning when not to lead.”

Consultant Vanessa Lujan volunteers her time annually to help lead a YLDC session.

During the December session at the Lone Tree Civic Center, she urged the students to study other leaders, learn how to listen to others and stay open to new experiences.

“Leadership is a journey,” Lujan said. “It’s not a destination.”

As seniors, YLDC students are expected to turn their skills into action and give back to the community. YLDC seniors have taught leadership classes for elementary schools, volunteered at Sky Ridge Medical Center, and planted school gardens.

The class costs $495 per student, but YLDC granted $6,000 in scholarships to participants in 2012 alone to help defray that cost.

“We want to make sure every child who wants to participate can have that opportunity,” Turner said.

Students who participate in YLDC also may get college credit for the course, which are transferable to many colleges in Colorado and other states.

The Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce established the adult Leadership Douglas County program in 1999. For more information about the adult and youth programs, visit www.leadershipdouglascounty.org.

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