Twenty-five Challis High School students learned more about themselves and each other during an early February leadership training and professional skills development session.

Participants were not just the obvious leaders, such as student council members, top scholars or athletes, CHS Counselor Ang Sugden said, but also quiet, compassionate leaders.

Greg Sommers, of The Core Project in Rathdrum, brought the training to students on Feb. 7 and to teachers and staff the following day to help the school turn its climate from negative things such as bullying, to positivity and compassion. Through team-building exercises and talking to each other on deeper levels, Sommers helped students get to know their true selves, which he calls a person’s core. When people peel away defensive and superficial layers, they can make big changes in themselves and the climate where they work or go to school, Sommers said in an interview with Sugden and students Jarett Ollar, Nicholas Dizes, Carson Parkinson and Hannah Corrigan after the training.

“I’m an ongoing project,” Sommers said of himself, and so are most other people. People lead from the inside and by getting in touch with themselves, and with a loving and compassionate attitude they can have a more positive influence on others.

To really connect with someone, you have to show others your authentic self, Sugden said.

“I learned a lot about myself and what others think of me,” Corrigan said. “I made friends out of acquaintances.” The team-building exercises kept students active and thinking about themselves and how their attitudes affect people around them, either positively or negatively, Corrigan said. “It brought out our emotional side. I think it was great.”

Since Challis High School has a small student body, students get to know each other and their families quite well, Ollar said. Sometimes that spills into negativity and “we can hurt ourselves.” The training helped students realize they can have a positive effect on others, he said.

The training didn’t focus on topics like bullying or gossiping, Sugden said, but how simple things like a kind word or a desire to help others can help. People see so much negativity that “we need to see the positive,” she said.

“You can improve someone’s day with your healthy attitude,” Corrigan said.

The training “helps them look inside themselves and know that they are making an impact. We know they are. But sometimes they need to know they are, too,” Sugden said.

“I don’t really think you can change a person” to be better or to be a leader, Dizes said. “I think it’s a change within themselves. So it is more about influence and impact and that’s our job as leaders — to leave a positive impact so people can feel happier or feel loved.”

“So they can be comfortable,” said Corrigan.

“It’s not going to take just one person,” Ollar said. “One person can start it but there’s got to be more than one person to carry through a change in the school.”

“If you show a person that you care, it will make them want to come next time,” Corrigan said. “It’ll make them feel inspired to do what you do or to do something they’ve been wanting to do.” People look up to leaders, Corrigan said, and leaders who care about others “have a huge impact on other people, whether you know it or not.”

Leaders don’t necessarily have specific tasks, Corrigan said, but should do what they think is right in any given situation.

With a position like senior class president, a person is expected to get up in front and lead at assemblies and the like, Sommers said, “but that’s not really the leadership role we need. What we need is the senior class president who’s doing that not just to fill that task but use it to bring people together, help people connect.” Leaders don’t have to be in front of a crowd to have an effect, but rather should hold themselves accountable for how they affect other people and have a positive influence on others, Sommers said.

Sommers wore a T-shirt with the message “It doesn’t take a best friend to be a real friend” on the back. “A lot of times we reserve for our closest friends those things like loyalty, caring, compassion, thoughtfulness” and sometimes forget about others.

It’s risky showing others who you really are. “You risk your social status,” Sugden said.

“We need people who are willing to do that because without that, people are always going to hold back” and interact on a superficial level, said Sommers.

“I think most kids want to act on an authentic level,” Sugden. “Being vulnerable is really hard and social status in high school is sometimes of the utmost importance. It’s hard to ask students to step back and to include that other kid. We need to ask our kids to do that, we need to ask our society to do that, in the times we’re living in right now. There’s not enough air time for this. This isn’t taught in history or English or an elective course, but this is something kids benefit from in a huge way.”

“It’s easy to be honest with yourself in here,” in the training seminar, Ollar said. “Where it really matters is out in the real world, where you can make a difference. You can learn about this stuff all you want, but you have to put it into practice.”

There’s more isolation in society in the era of the smartphone, Sommers said. “We need to provide opportunities and systems in schools to do more with social and emotional learning. We’re becoming more and more disconnected, and I think that is at the root of the problem.” People miss out on social interaction such as problem solving, being patient with each other and telling stories when they can get an immediate answer to a question such as “What is the elevation of Mount Borah,” Sommers said. “Now, I can be isolated, and in isolation, I don’t grow, I don’t get to experience new things, I don’t have to accommodate anybody.”

“Anxiety goes through the roof,” Sugden said.

Each student had his or her favorite team-building exercise.

Parkinson’s was one where students partnered up and timed themselves to see how long they could collectively hold their breath. They discovered that by taking turns, they could do so indefinitely.

The best individual breath-holding time was about a minute and a half, Sommers said, “but you can carry each others’ burdens indefinitely.”

Corrigan’s favorite exercise was working together to keep a “buzz ring” going around the circle of students. A buzz ring is a metal hula hoop of sorts with smaller rings that must be kept spinning around the circumference of the larger ring. With practice, students got better at the exercise. The 25 students and three adults set an initial record of 35 seconds for going around the circle and high-fiving each other but then got it down to just 1.96 seconds.

“We’re all uniting in trying to make our school a more joyful place to be in,” Dizes said.

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