The desire to lead is what unites 13 graduates of KidLead, Harker’s successful after-school offering for lower and middle school students.
Ready and armed with the tools to take on leadership positions, many KidLead graduates are now role models for their peers. From community outreach to student government, performing arts, sports and team academics, there are many opportunities for young leaders to use their talents. Several years ago, to help foster leadership development early in students’ academic careers, Harker became one of the firstschools nationwide to implement KidLead, an executive-caliber, globally recognized leadership training program designed especially for preteens.
“We believe this unique program is consistent with the values and ideals fostered at Harker. It is not simply a leadership education program; it attemptsto focus on developing leaders who have already demonstrated aptitude in this area and expands upon it,” explained Greg Lawson, assistant head of school for student affairs.
Lawson was instrumental in bringing KidLead to Harker, first to the middle school and more recently to the lower school. Now, he is thrilled that the enrichment program has turned out more than a dozen graduates. Run by the lower and middle school’s BEST departments, KidLead – a nonprofit organization based in Monterey – has created an age-appropriate leadership skill curriculum for 10- to 13-year-olds called “LeadNow” that Harker is using. The after-school program is separately run on the lower- and middle school campuses during a series of eight 90-minute sessions. In the fall quarter there were eight students enrolled in the lower school program and 10 in the middle school offering.
Shafieen Ibrahim, a grade 7 student and KidLead graduate, put his leadership skills to use last year by establishing his dream club, the Blackford Computer Game Development Club. After getting the green light from Cindy Ellis, middle school head, and assistance from some of his teachers, Ibrahim launched his club, which has since grown and branched out into two different groups, one for boys and another for girls.
“In the club, I was given teacher privileges to teach my peers Scratch, a program to develop computer games. The club now includes both video games and board games. We will be moving onto teaching app development soon. I had [used] Scratch for many years, and I thought that it was very interesting and fun,” explained Ibrahim. He said he enrolled in the KidLead program while in grade 5 and that it took him a little over a year to complete all the requirements to graduate. “I always wanted to be a leader … to be able to work with a team well, develop leadership capabilities, and grow out of my shell,” he added.
“We couldn’t be happier and prouder and I’m so thankful for having Shafieen complete the KidLead program. It has helped him tremendously!” enthused his mother, Zeba Ibrahim. This past fall, another KidLead graduate, grade 8 student Aliesa Bahri, took it upon herself to organize a commemorative event on the middle school campus celebrating the International Day of the Girl Child, which raises awareness about the issues girls face both in the United States and internationally. She urged eighth graders to show their support for the cause by dressing in blue, and asked that sixth and seventh graders wear some type of blue accessory.
“I wanted to raise awareness about girls’ rights … and I chose the color blue since it is typically associated with boys and goes against the ‘pink is for girls’ stereotype,” recalled Bahri.
Bahri used the campus lunch hour on the Day of the Girl to hold a special video presentation for grade 7 and 8 students about the plight of girls in Pakistan, where just over half of all girls make it to a primary school classroom, and only 12 percent make it to secondary school.
“I found out about KidLead from a flier that arrived in my take-home folder one year. The program intrigued me, as I knew that one day I hoped to be a leader in my community. What I did not know was how to be one. KidLead gave me the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone in a safe environment and be a leader in different group situations,” said Bahri.
KidLead founder Dr. Alan Nelson said he is impressed with both the students and staff involved with the program at Harker. Nelson, who has given well-attended talks to Harker parents about how to foster leadership skills in their children, called Harker “the flagship school” for being an early adopter of the program.
Weekly KidLead program sessions are led by certified instructors and “koaches” (all Harker teachers and staff members) who assist students in activities designed to improve qualities that are grouped into four color-coded modules. Each module has four sections stressing a value, an attitude, a relationship and a decision – such as ethics, honor, communication and power.
Harker’s current list of certified trainers and “koaches” are: Lawson; Keith Hirota, middle school social studies instructor; Patricia Lai Burrows, middle school English teacher; Jennifer Walrod, director of global education; Eric Kallbrier, club/ programs coordinator; Gerry-louise Robinson, lower school art instructor; Arabelle Chow, middle school English teacher; Cathy Hsieh, lower school science teacher; Eric Leonard, lower school language arts teacher; and Ken Allen, lower school dean of students. At the lower school, Robinson said the Bucknall effort had several graduates last year, as well as a returning student this year.
Alexander Young graduated from KidLead at the lower school in grade 5. Now a seventh grader, he praised it as an amazing experience. “It gave me the opportunity to interact with fellow classmates and teachers to learn about important leadership skills; these often proved useful when working with others both in and out of the classroom. Topics such as responsibility, commitment, optimism and communication were discussed and practiced so that I could use them in everyday life. I found that I could strategize and coordinate to make tasks smooth and straightforward. Overall, KidLead is a course that I would definitely recommend,” he said.
Current KidLead participants can already be found flexing their leadership muscles. In fact, several of them were among the group of grade 7 students who earlier this year held an assembly to mark the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “The motto of KidLead is, ‘If you want to change the world, focus on leaders. If you want to change leaders, focus on them when they’re young,’” said Robinson.
Chow said she decided to become a KidLead “koach” because she wanted to help students grow leadership skills. “It’s exciting to see the students participate in the activities and learn, not just from the trainer, but from one another as well. Their enthusiasm and genuine desire to learn is what brings me back each quarter,” she enthused.
Kallbrier agreed: “After many years of working with young Harker students, I noticed that we have a very high volume of motivated young leaders who hunger to grow and develop their abilities. KidLead has been the perfect place for these students to learn, practice and discuss practical aspects of leadership … while having fun!”
All KidLead graduates walk away upon successful completion of the program with a T-shirt, book for parents, class materials, and an eagerness to roll up their sleeves and get to work on becoming future leaders – starting today. “According to Harvard, the average age of a first, formal leadership training is 42. So Harker students in this program are getting a 30-year head start!” said KidLead’s Nelson.