How do you define leadership?
For grade school or high school students, it can be as prominent as running for class president or it can be as universal as standing up to a bully or defending a classmate. It can be the unnoticed act of offering quiet support and friendship in times of trouble as much as being captain of a sports team or activity.
Those were some of the scenarios presented as Joliet Catholic Academy held its 17th annual Seventh-Grade Leadership Conference in the Student Activity Center. Over 420 students from 17 different grade schools were represented and over 100 from JCA took part as student ambassadors.
“The leadership conference is a great opportunity for seventh-graders to really think about the important topic of leadership and what it means in their own lives and their own schools,” said Kris Horn, JCA’s director of financial aid. “This gives them the opportunity to share their own experiences.
“These seventh-graders are going to be the leaders in their schools next year. It’s important that they embrace the role of leadership, so this gives them the opportunity to interact with JCA’s student leaders and see how they are dealing with their own transition in having to prepare for the next step of college.”
Joe Gura, a world history and sociology teacher at JCA and the Hillmen boys basketball coach, was the guest speaker. He underscored how strongly he feels about development before entering high school.
“Next year, that eighth-grade year, is one of the most important years of their life,” Gura said. “They’re going to look around their schools in August and say, ‘Hey, we’re the leaders.’ With that comes a lot of things, and this conference will help prepare them and give them confidence to grow in that challenge.
“The fact that JCA recognizes the importance of leadership for seventh-graders going into eighth grade, no matter what school they are going to, is a credit to JCA and shows how much we value leadership.”
According to Horn, the moment with the biggest impact occurred at the end, when JCA students announced the colleges they would be going to — Northwestern, Notre Dame, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Loyola, DePaul, etc. Within four years, these seventh-graders will be making those types of plans.
As, hopefully, leaders.
“Bottom line, what I like is the theme — leadership,” said Mary Ragusa, JCA’s admissions and financial aid coordinator. “The goal is to give them challenges and see how they would respond to situations.”
“It’s a great event that brings together all kinds of different kids from different grade schools,” said Debbie Dispenza, JCA’s admissions and financial aid coordinator. “The interaction between our students — not just our teachers, but our students — and the junior high students is invaluable.”