Learning to navigate life can be very difficult for middle school and high school students. We often have high expectations for teenagers socially, emotionally and academically, yet we don’t always equip them with the tools necessary to be the kind of leaders that we desire them to become. South Lyon Community Schools understands the value in providing extra leadership training for our students, and that is why they are providing and supporting Reaching Higher classes that run twice a year at both middle schools and both high schools in the district.
Reaching Higher is a Michigan-based nonprofit organization that provides personal leadership training that motivates, inspires and prepares students to succeed and to reach their full potential. The program is an eight-week leadership class that equips students with tools that help them learn how to manage stress, how to set realistic goals, how to identify and overcome their limiting beliefs and the importance of positive life choices. Students are nominated for the class and the list is narrowed down to 25 students who are chosen by teachers and administrators based on leadership potential that is within them. It is taught by two certified instructors and supported by five mentors from the community who work with the students in small groups. The goal of Reaching Higher is to impact our schools and communities by providing leadership development to our students.
Students who take the class benefit greatly and leave with increased confidence and self-esteem, improved academic performance, and enhanced interpersonal communication and public speaking skills. They also are better at setting goals and knowing how to take steps to achieve them. Reaching Higher creates an environment where they can build strong, meaningful connections with their peers and caring adults. Studies show that kids who are more well-connected at school perform better academically and they function better socially and emotionally. Surveys report that parents see visible positive outcomes in their children after participating in the class.
The growth that happens on a personal level in a short time is amazing, but the impact of Reaching Higher goes far beyond what the students gain individually. As the students become stronger leaders, their influence ripples out into the clubs, teams, activities and classrooms where they interact daily. This influence then has the potential to change the culture of their schools, their families, and their communities. The students enter the class from different backgrounds and with a variety of life experiences, yet they leave the class realizing they are all way more alike than they are different. This allows them to gain empathy for others and gives them a new perspective as they walk the halls at school. The experiences they have in eight short weeks brings them to a place where they can continue to grow and flourish and be even more amazing than they were when they started the class.
At the end of the class students are asked to reflect on their experiences in the class and share what they have learned, how they have grown, and what they will take away. Here are a few snippets from three of our students from our classes this fall:
South Lyon High student: “Looking back, these eight weeks went by surprisingly fast. Truth be told, this program didn’t necessarily teach me what I had in mind when I went in, which was how to become the person that everyone wants and expects me to be. I learned that before you can be a powerful and brave leader to others, you must first recognize the beauty and worthiness within yourself. I am so grateful for the experiences and life lessons that I will carry with me for as long as I live. Thank you to all of the mentors for having my best interest in mind and for all of the love and support as I continue to grow into the person I am and want to be. Finally, thank you to the students that were in the program with me. You guys have allowed me to branch out and get the chance to get to know every single one of you. Forever the best decision I have ever made.
Reaching Higher, I am your biggest fan.
South Lyon High student: Before this class, I was basically lost. I was always, and still am, completely engulfed in my sports, and being a leader on my team. That is something I always strive for and pride myself on. I wasn’t the right kind of leader though. This class has taught me that I don’t need to be the biggest or scariest guy on the field or in my circle to be the leader. What I truly needed was to be able to relate to my teammates and friends, accept my role as the leader, be able to take criticism, admit when I’m wrong, and how to truly love myself. One of my biggest things I focus on now is the fact that you can’t love somebody without loving yourself. The biggest thing I will take out of this is that I am more than enough for me. This class taught me that there is good in this world that isn’t hard to find, you just have to know where to look. No one can be productive when they see themselves as the victim, it is important to be able to take a negative situation or outcome, and use that to push yourself to make a better one next time.
Millennium Middle School student: Before I became a part of this program, I didn’t know how much this would impact my life. At first, I thought it was just a leadership class to teach me how to make huge changes in the world. Instead, it taught me to start small. I learned that to become a good leader, I must become the type of person who is confident in myself and is determined to reach my goals. This started by reminding myself that I am a miracle, and it gradually grew into me becoming a courageous and assertive person. By opening up about things that are important to me I matured into someone who is more content with my decisions. Reaching Higher helped me realize that I needed to have a more positive attitude toward my life and that there is always room for improvement. I even came up with a fancy new quote about limiting beliefs: “If we don’t leave room for mistakes, we don’t leave room for growth.” I’m a perfectionist, but I needed to understand that mistakes can’t keep me down. I must learn, grow, and be persistent in pursuing my goals. As a result of being in this program, I now believe that I am more than capable of doing anything I put my mind to. My qualities as a leader have enhanced beyond being an outgoing individual.