This weekend, middle schoolers from across the Granite State arrive on campus for the New Hampshire Student Leadership Program’s Student Leadership Summit. The program (NHSLP) is a collaborative effort between independent and public schools. It is designed to nurture the leadership potential of students starting in middle school and throughout their high school years. Its goal is to support those who have limited access to leadership development opportunities. Participants are nominated by their teachers, school counselors, principals, or an adult member of their community. Applications undergo a review by the selection committee and ultimately, the selected participants enter the program at no cost to their families.
Program Director and Brewster science faculty member Michelle Rafalowski-Houseman explained that NHSLP includes several components, including next week’s Student Leadership Summit: “The Summit is a one-week residential experience on the Brewster campus here in Wolfeboro, where students get to explore their personal strengths, values, self-identity, and challenges that face their communities,” she said. “Classroom activities are dynamic and explore social-emotional literacy, values clarification, how to be an effective listener and peer helper, and what it means to be a good leader. Students also immerse themselves in the local environment as they kayak/canoe on Lake Winnipesaukee, enjoy evening swims, and explore a number of mountains here in the Lakes Region. The arts play an important role in the student experience with music and visual arts being incorporated into the week’s activities. The students, along with those leading the program, have a lot of fun engaging with the summer community at Brewster and in Wolfeboro.”
During these activities (and for many, the first-time experience of dorm living), students learn strategies that foster effective communication, collaboration, and problem-solving: All key components to developing effective leadership skills that students will carry with them into their high school years and beyond.
Last year’s program went online due to COVID, and allowed the 8th graders to continue the work they had begun the previous year. This year, the NHSLP welcomes a new cadre of 7th grade Student Leaders with an in-person experience! Be sure—precautions are being taken. “Not all of our Summit students are able to be vaccinated,” Rafalowski-Houseman said. “So we will be requiring masks with strict adherence to social distancing and hand-washing practices.” Those students who are not fully vaccinated will need to show proof of a negative COVID test taken within 48 hours of arriving to campus.
Of the eight adults comprising the NHSLP Summit Team, only two are new to the program. Having individuals return each year speaks to the quality of the experience—for the students and adult leaders alike—and ensures continuity in the work they do. In fact, two of the teaching assistants are taking vacations from their regular jobs to work for the NHSLP! Rafalowski-Houseman is excited to welcome to the team Kara McDuffee, a Brewster educator and NHSLP Assistant (Internal) Director. She will be facilitating the student-mentor component of the program once the school year begins. AK Walker, a veteran math teacher at Seabrook Middle School and ski coach at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, N.H., serves as the NHSLP Assistant (External) Director and has been valuable in shaping the NHSLP since its inception in 2019. Teaching Assistants for this summer’s Leadership Summit are Nicole Bartlett (Holderness School Admissions Office and Varsity Women’s Hockey Coach, Holderness, N.H.), Reid Demain (Brewster ’21, St. Lawrence University ’25, Wolfeboro, N.H.), Gianna Muscari (English teacher at Williston School, Easthampton, Mass.), Max Paro (Holderness School Communications Office, Holderness, N.H.), and Zoe Rafalowski-Houseman '15 (EMT, Martha’s Vineyard Chiropractic Office, Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.).
“It’s so gratifying for us to be able to share all the resources of Brewster’s campus and the Lakes Region with our students,” Rafalowski-Houseman said. “To see the light in the Student Leaders’ eyes as they discover their own leadership style and strengths is exactly what this program is all about. We sincerely appreciate everyone who supports it.”
It is exciting to note that the NHSLP began in 2019 and is growing into its fourth year at Brewster. In 2020, Holderness School joined forces with Brewster and embraced the NHSLP as a part of its school outreach efforts. The program was the brainchild of Dr. Craig Gemmell, President of Brewster Academy and Brewster Academy International. Dr. Gemmell, Head of School at the time in 2019, felt strongly that the New Hampshire Student Leadership Program was key in helping to realize both Brewster’s mission (“We prepare diverse thinkers for lives of purpose”) and vision (“An approach to learning that has the exponential power to transform education, communities, and the lives of students in our care”).
In the words of Rafalowski-Houseman, whose passion and excitement for the NHSLP are truly infectious: Lead on!
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