Lakeland students get leadership boost

Published 9:20 pm Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Lakeland High School’s emerging leaders will get a boost thanks to sponsorship from Chick-fil-A.

Thirty students from all grade levels will participate in the year-long Chick-fil-A Leader Academy designed to help them develop leadership skills. With financial assistance from the company’s corporate headquarters, its North Main Street store and Coca-Cola, the students will have the opportunity to build their leadership skills to help them and the community.

History teachers Albert White and Rudolph Edwards, who are mentoring the students through the program, said when the school saw the opportunity to participate last year, it jumped right in. Now in its second year, the Leader Academy aims to expand its scope and impact.

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“When the opportunity came to us, we saw that no one in Suffolk was participating in it,” White said. “And leaders are very important. We want our kids to be leaders, so we definitely jumped on that opportunity. We donate our time. We don’t make anything off of this, but they’re donating a lot of money to help these kids build. So it’s sort of like an opportunity that we could not turn down. We want to have as much resources for these kids as possible.”

Students on Wednesday kicked off this year’s academy program by putting together care packages for veterans and learned about individual leaders in the past, and what leadership skills they possess.

Senior Shaleah Tolliver, 17, said she hopes to become a better leader through the program and said it would help her learn how to speak to and lead people better.

“It taught me how to put myself into the action because I did those cards for the veterans and the people in the military,” Tolliver said, “and that really helped me to humanize myself and show humility to those who need it.”

White said future activities will include putting care packages together for people in the Bahamas in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. But students will also be tasked with developing their own ideas for projects that would benefit the school, community and beyond.

“It’s going to be up to them,” White said. “They’re going to have to come up with some activities that they want to do in the community. … We actually want them to exercise these skills.”

White said students in the program were selected based on their grades, their behavior and leadership potential.

Edwards said he wanted to get involved in the program because he wants to impact students and show them how to be leaders in the school and community. He has seen students already show a high interest level and they see where they may be able to have a positive impact on their community.

“This program will give them the chance to go beyond school and actually impact their community in various ways, and throughout various neighborhoods,” Edwards said.

Chick-fil-A will provide lunch to the students once per month and provide Lakeland students with materials and videos showing them different leadership skills.

Teri Jernigan, marketing director for Chick-fil-A’s Main Street location, said the program is important to the chain and to the store’s owner, Nicki Dalton.

“It is very important because we invest in young people, (and) we invest in people in the community,” Jernigan said. “On the high school level, if they can learn some skills and impact the community and make a difference, especially when you’re talking about bullying, people that have been left out, people who don’t feel appreciated. They can learn skills to make a difference and impact someone else’s life.”

That’s what senior Hannah Mohamdien wants to do — make an impact on her community.

“I feel like being in high school in general, I don’t really get many opportunities to do what I want to do,” Mohamdien said, “so hopefully this will give me an actual foundation to start doing those things.”

While Jernigan would like to see students eventually working at Chick-fil-A, she said the skills they will get out of the leader program would benefit them no matter what they do.

“What we want to help the young people in this community understand is that they can be anybody they want to be,” Jernigan said. “They can be anything they want to be. They can have any job they want to have. However, with that is going to come hard work and dedication.

“And some of these skills that they can learn here or learn by working at Chick-fil-A, they can be who they want to be, because Chick-fil-A may just be a small step, it can just be a small pebble, but it can be that catalyst to move them forward into making them the best versions of themselves that they can be.”