Blair sophomores tackled a wide range of individual and class service work as part of Blair LEADS, a course designed to build students’ self-awareness, ownership and confidence as leaders and communicators.
Faculty members from across disciplines team taught 11 LEADS sections this year, focusing on a class-wide project in the fall and individual causes selected by students in the spring. Classes collectively tackled a host of issues, planning a 5K benefiting families living with cancer, hosting a cancer fundraiser, sponsoring a Jeopardy event raising money for cystic fibrosis, producing a video expressing appreciation for Blair staff members, and building a community garden, to name a few. The causes selected by individual students were just as varied, and the course ended with classmates presenting what they did and how they succeeded or failed. For those who planned to continue working with the charity or cause of their choice, they also described next steps for making a difference.
“One of our main goals is to teach students to be more self aware and to identify needs in their community and then address those needs through LEADS,” said Carolyn Conforti-Browse ’79, who oversees the program as Blair’s Dean of Campus Life and director of leadership programs. “We emphasize life coaching, values and ethics, and students learn these lessons through a combination of small and big things—from how much making your bed in the morning can change your day, to the impact you can have by researching cystic fibrosis and educating others, to the ins and outs of organizing a weekend activity or a fundraiser by yourself.”
The LEADS curriculum is deeply rooted in the leadership- and values-focused work Ms. Conforti-Browse has always done with Blair students, but it has become much more structured in the last several years. “The individual project work our classes are tackling is essentially a 21st-century version of what we used to call the ‘senior challenge,’” said Ms. Conforti-Browse.
A Class That Spans a Very Formative Year
Blair has found that focusing on leadership and communication competencies, as well as the value of serving others, earlier in the Blair experience yields dividends for students in terms of their understanding of self and the world around them.
“Sophomore year is traditionally a year of vulnerability; you may not be in honeymoon period of Blair anymore and things are more challenging academically,” said Ms. Conforti-Browse. “It is a very formative year in terms of gaining a sense of ownership over what skill sets you are acquiring and what kind of person you are choosing to be. Students begin to really process the consequences of their choices and lay the foundation of the mindset that ‘even small action is better than intention.’ This is how they gain confidence and authenticity.”
Even just the realization that it is okay to make big plans and fail and then make small plans and succeed is an important life lesson, Ms. Conforti-Browse added. She and fellow LEADS teachers will continue to teach that lesson during the 2018-2019 school year.