High School Leadership Academy wraps up in its inaugural year

Jessica Knieff

High school students from around Shawnee County presented a showcase of their work for the High School Leadership Academy June 18.

Over the past week, 19 high students attended the Washburn Leadership Institute’s inaugural summer High School Leadership Academy.

These presentations ranged from preventing texting and driving to redefining the perception of Highland Park High School to reforming high school dress codes. The issues identified by these students were all strategically identified and analyzed using four competencies taught throughout the week: managing self, engaging others, energizing others and intervening skillfully.

The students were kept busy all week with activities like touring the state capitol, a United Way bus tour of the city, familiarizing themselves with Washburn’s campus and even completed a day of service giving back to the Pine Ridge community.

This first year program was funded by a grant from the Topeka Community Foundation and made possible through the efforts of Katelyn Rollins, the Leadership Institute faculty, many community partners and the nine collegiate peer mentors that supported the high schoolers throughout the week.

“The program is meant to empower students,” Rollins said. “We really want these students to be not just the class presidents, we want them to be students that have potential. This is an opportunity for them to strengthen their leadership skills to then go back to their high schools and apply what they learned.”

The students lived in Washburn’s Lincoln Residence Hall for one week. They spent their days engaging with various community partners learning about Topeka, past and present.

“I hope they are inspired to realize and recognize that they can do so much more than they think they can,” said Morgan Holloway, sophomore technology administration major and peer mentor for HSLA.

Holloway says the experience as a peer mentor allowed her to support the youth leaders of Topeka and Shawnee County. She also learned a lot about leadership from what the high schools students had to say in their reflections on the week.

The high school attendees were each nominated by their principals and following an application process, were notified of their selection through a surprise tapping ceremony at their schools. The students were hand selected based on their potential as leaders to incite change in their communities.

“I have created a network for myself, I have opened my mind to a lot of new opportunities that I never would have thought existed in Topeka, Kansas,” said Haley Campbell-Zirkel, junior at Highland Park High School and participant in HSLA.

She enthusiastically said that anyone considering involvement with this new program should do it. She said that although it is a week out of your summer, it will make a lifetime of difference.

Rollins said she expects the program to have an increase in engagement from both Washburn Leadership Institute students as well as community partners in future years. The combined efforts of these two groups created a meaningful experience for the young leaders involved.