Holden – Students participating on the Holden Special Olympics Team receive a championship send-off at the high school, like any other sports team.

The support for the Special Olympics athletes is the result of a partnership between a unique high school leadership class and special services students.

The Student Leadership Development Class taught by Sally Burnett took on the partnership as an ongoing project at the school, modeling acceptance and promoting “diversity and inclusion,” and mitigating bullying, Burnett said.

The class, in year four at the high school, focuses on teaching students to unite to identify and address community needs.

Skills taught include communicating effectively in speech and writing; understanding the role of leadership; applying organizational strategies and management skills; and understanding and utilizing problem-solving and conflict resolution skills.

Class curriculum is approved by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and is endorsed by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Students receive practical arts credit for the class.

Principal Ginger Jones said Burnett, a Student Council sponsor, gleaned the idea for the class from a student council conference.

“It was a great idea,” Jones said, adding, Burnett “was the right person to get it started. She has the drive and passion for service to the community to make it happen, and she shows a passion for working with special education students.”

Burnett visited other schools with similar programs and worked with the Missouri Association of Student Councils to develop the curriculum.

“It took a couple of years to get it in place,” Burnett said.

At some schools, enrollment is restricted to student council members, she said. At Holden, about half of the class members are on the student council, but enrollment is open to any eligible upperclassman.

Students from other organizations bring different perspectives to the table, she said.

While class membership is open primarily to juniors and seniors who meet criteria and submit an application, exceptions are made for underclassmen to join.

Grades figure into the equation, Burnett said, “But we’re not necessarily looking for National Honor Society candidates.”

Qualifications include good academic standing, leadership ability, good attendance and citizenship.

Candidates also must submit an application stating why they think the leadership class needs them and why they need the leadership class.

Students take the class as an elective, with the option for dual credit offered by some colleges and universities, such as Drury College in Springfield.

Class size is limited to about 12 students per year to assure better interaction among members, Burnett said.

A bigger group diminishes the interaction, which focuses on group dynamics, conflict resolution and project planning and implementation, she said.

The class meets every other day, based on the block scheduling.

Burnett said the class is offered all year rather than just one semester because students “need time to get to know and trust each other” and to implement projects.

Senior Gene Collins, taking the class for a second year, said his motivation stemmed from “quite a few good things” he heard about the class from previous students, the course description and the opportunity to do community service.

“I feel I’ll get a lot of satisfaction that will come from helping other people,” Collins said. He also is learning skills, such as communication, and gets “a behind-the-scenes” look at “what it takes to make an event materialize,” he said.

Denise Mason, a junior taking the class for the first time, said she had not planned to apply, but Jones and Burnett encouraged her.

“They told me I would be great for the class,” she said.

Unable to meet the A+ program requirements for 50 hours of mentoring, Mason said she decided to join the leadership class because she already participated in other organizations doing community service.

“It would be good for (college) applications and a fun class to take,” she said, adding the class has helped her develop self-confidence.

Callie Hall, a sophomore, is one of the exceptions to the admission rule, Burnett said. A student in Burnett’s freshman business class, Hall impressed Burnett with attitude, diligence and desire to give back to the community – attributes that fit program requirements.

“What really started my fire was just noticing the school board and teachers and how much they do for the students to make us successful,” Hall said. “I just admired that and knew they were in contact with businesses and the community.

“I want to give back to them for helping us so much.”

The program provides more than she expected, Hall said.

“Initially, when I came in, I thought we’d do a few things. In reality, we’re able to do so much more than I thought we could do.”

Collins and Hall said a visit to the senior center ranks among course highlights. Hall said the senior citizens taught them how to play pitch.

“It was so much fun, and they were so inviting,” she said.

In addition to ongoing projects like the Special Olympics, the students decide on other projects to undertake during the year.

“Every year I poll the class and ask what we need to keep and what needs to be discarded,” Burnett said.

Ryan said the class discusses “what we want to do and how to do it,” reaching a compromise through discussion and conflict resolution.

“They do exceptional things. I’m proud of them,” Burnett said.

Students have conducted fundraisers for needy families, implemented school recycling, made a slide show as gifts for the Special Olympics with special songs to go with their personalities; and partnered with other organizations on projects to help the community.

Burnett said curriculum varies depending on the projects selected.

Last year, students implemented recycling in conjunction with Earth Day, a project that required “effort and fundraising,” she said.

“The environment was very important to that group,” Burnett said.

To raise funds, students volunteered to work the concession stands at high school games, Burnett said, because they know making contributions is a hardship for some families.

The class then decides how to spend fundraising proceeds.

Students also adopt a family to help each year, she said, and adopt two families to sponsor for Christmas.

This year, they also are helping in a Thanksgiving dinner collection headed by the Family Career and Community Leaders of America.

The grocery store will donate a turkey for every dinner provided, Burnett said, and the seminar or home room that collects the most will win a pizza party.

“One of the things that impresses me,” she said, is the leadership class is not participating in the competition but the students want to help with the effort anyway.

Jones said class members take on tasks other groups cannot that benefit the whole school.

The students’ initiatives and ideas “are well thought out,” she said.

“They present themselves well and have the ability to make (projects) happen,” Jones said.

Sometimes, she said, class members “enlighten us to the needs students have,” and staff uses the class as a sounding board “to bounce ideas off of to see how they’ll go over” with the student body.

“They’re very honest,” she said.

Burnett said the support the class receives from the administration is invaluable.

“Mrs. Jones has been very supportive and understands failures sometime happen … no matter how much you plan and how much you like the idea. … That’s part of the process. We embrace it and learn from it. You pick yourself up, regroup and move on,” Burnett said.

Jones said the class prepares students to be more productive citizens.

At a presentation before the school board, Burnett said tests cannot measure what students learn in the class.

“The things that they do are going to serve them well in their communities … and for the rest of their lives,” she said.

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