The Willy Shuman Leadership Club for 8th Grade Students
(sponsored by The Willy Foundation, Inc. of Charleston, West Virginia)
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A group of like-minded and concerned citizens coalesced in 2011 and forged a program designed to meet a pressing need in a particular Kanawha County Middle School. They created what amounts to a school-day incubator wherein young teenage students would purposefully hone and grow their citizenship and leadership skills under the nurturing care of first-rate, proximate 12th grade role models. This is the short story of the community’s success. The model they created is applicable and replicable in most every geographic area across all demographic sectors of communities across America.
Research shows adolescents exhibit a distinct need of finding a group identity beyond the familiar or quaint confines of the immediate family, neighborhood, or church group that sustained them as younger children. This need is driven by an emergent and gripping desire for a self-defined identity amongst peers they have freely chosen — an urge most pronounced during their Middle School years. When positive-oriented groups are not sufficiently attractive to draw their interest, the adolescent all too often finds an outlet amongst nefarious associations. Traditionally, athletic teams and youth organizations (Scouts, Boys Clubs) have filled some of the void, providing high-quality outlets for their teenage yearnings. Increasingly, it would appear, many of these venues have grown obsolete, inadequate, uninteresting, insufficient, or out of reach.
A POTENTIAL SOLUTION
Having observed a growing need amongst the changing demographic make-up of her Middle School student body, Principal Lois Greene requested the assistance of the nearby High School Army JROTC program to provide mentoring help to some of her more needy students. The Senior Army Instructor at the High School, Colonel (retired) Monty Warner, responded, met with the students, and assessed the needs of the forty eighth grade students identified by Ms. Greene. He promptly surmised the need for a mentoring program consisting of 12th grade students who would be the kind of role models and counselors amongst whom the 8th graders would immediately engender kinship and mutual respect. The needed 12th graders were readily available within the JROTC cadet corps at my gym. Time within the school day was made possible by the two school principals working together. The Middle School students were able to use their “related arts” period of instruction to meet with the 12th grade cadets who chipped in during the coinciding JROTC period of instruction at the High School. The geographic proximity of the two schools facilitated the needed interaction and made for a most efficient use of student time.
INSPIRATION & FOCUS
The remaining needed component in this endeavor was a spark of enthusiasm, a guiding light, an inspiration, a focus, and resources to meet some residual program needs. Willy Shuman was a young man who had graduated from both the Middle School (2005) and High School (2009) where planning for this joint program was well underway. Willy tragically passed away in a freak car crash just four days before his scheduled departure (June, 2009) to become a Cadet at the US Air Force Academy where he had been recruited to play intercollegiate tennis. Willy was at the very top of his high school graduating class and renowned for his athletic ability, academic excellence, popularity, character, courage, and charisma. Willy’s example was one worthy of every young person’s best effort to emulate. The Willy Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to remembering Willy Shuman by encouraging young people to make the very most of their lives and opportunities. When asked for help by the school principal, the Willy Foundation offered every bit of assistance, moral support, and resources to make the promising embryonic program at the Middle School a reality.
To date the Willy Shuman Leadership Club at John Adams Middle School has graduated 47 students (May 2011) and transitioned them to the High School where most donned the Army cadet uniform in August 2011 and continued their growth in the full JROTC program. Thirty-four new 8th grade students have already joined the Club for the 2011-2012 school year and more inquire about joining the program every day. Thanks to the Willy Foundation, students in the Club are awarded a stylish, embroidered, black polo shirt and a printed, heavy-cotton, gray athletic shirt. The shirts constitute a uniform which is worn to school three days per week. The wearing of the shirts creates a distinct identity, pride, solidarity, and cohesiveness amongst Club members. The Club prides itself in ceremoniously raising and lowering the national flag in front of the school building every day. The cadets-in-training care for the campus by helping maintain the facilities and aiding the teachers and administrators wherever assistance may be needed. They undergo physical training sessions to strengthen their bodies, engage in team-building drills to enhance camaraderie, partake of instruction in citizenship, craft an aura of mutual respect and responsibility, and receive focused guidance on the finer details of leadership by 12th grade coaches who mentor them as they tackle and accomplish increasingly complex group-level tasks. The transformation of these Middle School students as they aspire to become engaged citizens and genuine leaders remains astonishing. Faculty and staff at the Middle School routinely witness to the favorable changes they have observed in their students who are Club members.
POTENTIAL FOR GROWTH & EXPANSION
JROTC provides a ready vehicle for expanding this successful Middle School program to many parts of the country. High School JROTC was created as part of the National Defense Act of 1916 under Woodrow Wilson’s Administration. From its modest start nearly 100 years ago, JROTC has grown to thousands of programs involving nearly 500,000 high school cadets across America. It is now found in every State. JROTC provides the manpower to perform the critical 12th Grade-to-8th Grade mentoring work and the means to sustain an up-and-running Middle School program year-after-year. Since active involvement in the Middle School creates favorable exposure for JROTC cadets, the Willy Shuman Leadership Club helps JROTC by gently inspiring students to continue their participation and personal growth into the High School cadet programs. The Club must work for the Middle School Principal and address the specific needs the school may have. Each school’s needs will differ, and the Willy Foundation provides the ready means and experience to tailor the solution and JROTC manpower to the tasks and needs outlined by the Principal. The ultimate contribution by the Willy Foundation is a critical one: material and resource support. While JROTC programs can provide the time and manpower for mentoring and teaching of 8th Graders, needs for resources (such as shirts, etc) must be met elsewhere and the Willy Foundation, working with local entities, is primed to help. Advice and counsel on best practices, what works well and what does not, is also readily available from the Willy Foundation.
Colonel (retired), US Army
Senior Army Instructor, GWHS JROTC
Thirteen students from the original class of the Leadership Club will graduate from George Washington High School in 2015, among them are an Eagle Scout, a student body president, three national guardsmen, a senior class treasurer, a state bowling champion, and a national merit scholar. These students embody precisely the determination and dedication the Leadership Club values foremost.