Nearly 150 local high school students gathered at Harper College this month for the second annual Leadership Challenge Experience, an all-day event to equip them with the critical thinking, professional etiquette and ethics needed to take on leadership roles and inspire change in high school, college and beyond.
Throughout the day, students worked in both large groups and small teams to complete exercises focused on defining and understanding what it means to be a good leader. The event also included networking with some of Harper's own student leaders and sessions addressing key leadership practices, led by Harper faculty.
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High school teachers and counselors said the event offered their students an opportunity to understand the roles they could play as leaders.
"I want them to be able to find the leadership qualities within themselves," said Ryan Brown, student council sponsor at Hoffman Estates High School, who brought both freshman and junior members of Student Council to the Challenge. By becoming more effective leaders, Brown said, "the freshman will help change the culture at the school, and the juniors will lead by example."
Students from Districts 211, 214 and Barrington High School attended the event, which is a spinoff of the Harper Leadership Challenge, a program intended to develop Harper students into more effective leaders.
Chris George, the program facilitator and student activity coordinator at the college, based the program on the popular book "The Leadership Challenge" by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. Reaching out to high school students before they come to college gives them a head start on effective leadership methods.
"They're already leaders, but giving them these practices provides a foundation for developing those skills," George said. "We want to inspire them to become even better."
Jonathan Szabo, a junior at Palatine High School, attended the Challenge with a goal of effecting positive change among his classmates and peers.
"I want to learn more leadership skills that I can hopefully take back and hopefully change Palatine High School for the better," he said.
Participants will be encouraged to complete weekly leadership assignments and return in December to report back on their successes.
"To be a leader, you have to go out of your boundaries, which can be hard for me and for other people," Szabo said. "If you do, you can hopefully change the world."