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Leadership grads produce video on school violence

Middle and high school students in Colorado Mountain College’s First Ascent Youth Leadership Academy graduated this month after learning important lessons in leadership themselves, and passing on lessons about school violence to others.

These eighth- and ninth-graders, selected from throughout CMC’s nine-county district, completed a 10-month program in leadership skills, from conflict resolution to consensus building.

This year’s class includes: Ashley Faber, Rifle Middle School; Jevon Boudreaux, Roaring Fork High School; Jenny Sanchez and Kyle Allen, Rifle Middle School; Leia Wommack, L.W. St. John Middle School; Justin Johnson, Carbondale Middle School; Janeth Niebla, Glenwood Springs High School; Kristina Walls, Eagle Valley Middle School; Harrison Gillis, Battle Mountain High School; Nicole Martin, Steamboat Springs Middle School.

The idea is to reach young people early in life and “plant the seeds” of future leaders, said Mariana Velasquez-Schmahl, alumni and annual fund specialist for the Colorado Mountain College Foundation, and the program’s creator.

“I always tell the story that I was raised a migrant, and my job is just to plant the seeds,” said Velasquez-Schmahl. “I truly believe that. So they can come to fruit. That’s my purpose.”

The students’ purpose is to learn a bit about leadership, and about themselves. This first group of 10 passed some of that knowledge on in a video they helped produce to take on school violence. In “Disarm,” the students combined their own thoughts on violence with those of high school counselors and community leaders.

They also interviewed a student paying the price for school violence by serving time in a youth detention program.

The video is designed to reach middle schoolers before they reach the sometimes-dangerous halls of high school.

“The past five, 10 years, there has been a lot of school violence,” First Ascent participant Jevon Boudreaux, of Carbondale, said in the video. “There was Columbine. Even in a small town like we have, we still worry about those kinds of things, and we still worry that we’re going to have to lock down our school because somebody’s crazed through our school with a gun.”

The video is geared partly to students who might see friends act violently, or treat other kids unfairly. It’s also aimed “to reach out to the kids that are standing on the edge alone,” said Terry Glasenapp, a filmmaker and CMC staff member who worked alongside the students to create the 17-minute video.

“I think they were thrilled that basically their idea turned into something that’s going to help other kids,” Glasenapp said.

Students taking part in the First Ascent Youth Leadership Academy are as diverse as the communities and schools they come from.

Both Anglo and Latino, they have different ideas on what they hope to take away from the program. Some are aspiring student council members. Others, said Velasquez-Schmahl, are interested in starting community recycling programs, or resolving tough family issues.

“For me, it’s just students who say, `I want to learn more about leadership,'” she said.

The Academy’s in its first year, but it’s an extension of the 7-year-old First Ascent Youth Leadership Program. The five-day experiential residential program at Leadville’s Timberline campus brings together students to take part in physical activities like rock climbing, whitewater rafting, trekking and other activities meant to develop team building and leadership skills.

“What we saw was, after seven years of the summer program, students always asked for more,” Velasquez-Schmahl said. “They expressed they wanted to learn more about leadership.”

Funded by philanthropists John and Carrie Morgridge, Alpine Bank and The Charlson Foundation, the Academy gives a handful of students the opportunity to study leadership in depth and put those skills to use in monthly workshops.

“We all had to be good listeners, to hear other peoples’ ideas and help decide what would work best,” said participant Janeth Niebla, of Glenwood Springs, who delivered an address in English and Spanish at the May 18 graduation ceremony at CMC – Spring Valley.

Niebla said she learned a lot about her teammates, and herself, through the Academy.

“I learned to hear the proposals of others, have confidence in my own ideas and to find a way to put it all together for the best result,” she said.

“All this will be of lasting value. I will always remember the Academy with gratitude.”


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