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Leadership Program starts with laughing and learning
Leader Ivan Potter and other leaders presented the program to sophomore class just after school started.
Off the bus and ready to go - Aliya Richards and Delany Boaz.
The Class of 2014-2015. Two students were unable to attend - making this a class of 13.
Crossing the River - teamwork means victory.
Building a tower of frozen marshmallows and toothpicks. Delany Boaz, Baylee Estes and Evan Jackson.
Melissa Goodman, center, pretests for student knowledge of community at beginning of program.
Team One- seated at the table: Jace York, Tyler Larkins, Lauren Jenkins, Aliya Richards
Team Two - Delany Boaz, Evan Jackson and Baylee Estes. Not pictured Keara Williams.
Team Three - Jalisha Hunter, Courtney Cagle, Jasymn Rushing, Brianna Crider. Not pictured: Chris Reed
Group picture-doing something silly.

(Columbus, KY) -Eleven students piled off the bus on a sunny Friday afternoon loaded down with air mattresses, favorite pillows and big smiles.

The fifth year of the Hickman County Chamber of Commerce Youth Leadership Program was about to begin with an overnight retreat at the Activity Center at Columbus - Belmont State Park. Leaders and Chamber volunteers were waiting for them with notebooks full of this year's work and of course - food to get them through the next 18 hours of team building activities, class work and exercises in public speaking.

Students dropped their stuff and settled onto comfortable couches for the evening's activities. Melissa Goodman, Hickman County Extension Agent and one of the four group leaders, immediately gave out a pretest. Finding out what students know at the beginning of the program and what they gain through a year of field trips and research is a vital part of Leadership.

The program, supported by the Chamber, local non-profits and the Hickman County School Board, costs students no money. Students are expected to fully participate, keep up their schoolwork and present a research paper and report at graduation in May. Students are also expected to volunteer ten hours at a Chamber sponsored event and prepare two press releases for local media.

During the first weekend, students divide into their research teams and choose a topic to research from a list of problems prepared by the Leadership Team. This year, teams will focus on youth jobs, agriculture and sharing young people's talents with the community.

This first weekend involved games like teams crossing an imaginary river using "stepping stones" made out of bandanas, lowering hula hoops on index fingers and building marshmallow and toothpick towers. A perennial favorite from past years repeated again is the after dark scavenger hunt.

Beverly Hopkins, Hickman County Community Education Coordinator, brought a balloon poppin' getting to know you game and shared a story that tested the students' listening skills. The short three paragraphs came with twenty six questions. No one, not even the leaders, got them all.

Ivan Potter shared a PowerPoint lecture on challenges facing Hickman County. Potter focused on international conflicts, climate challenges and water issues as the challenges. Opportunities for the area include its central location and rural lifestyle.

Mary Potter set her tone by sharing tips to improve listening, identifying individual learning styles and note taking. She warned students that she would be watching for note taking during field trip presentations. Students will be sending their press releases and photos to Mrs. Potter for submission to local media.

Melissa Goodman discussed dress codes for field trips and went through sample research papers in student notebooks. Students had questions on volunteer hours which Goodman fielded.

In a new addition to the program, leaders went over potential problems with the Class on Friday night. They then led a brainstorming session on how each question might be answered. Students were able to discuss the problems overnight and were more ready to choose a topic than past classes.

The Class will concentrate on Tourism and Cultural Heritage in late September. Other field trips will include agriculture, medical and health facilities, business and law and government. Students will also participate in guided work days to prepare their papers and presentations.

Students were informed that this is a learning activity and a competition with cash prizes awarded to the winning team project. They are eager for the challenge.

Tyler Larkins spoke for the group when he said "I am in this thing to win it."

No matter which team gets the most points from competition judges in May 2015, if past is prologue, every student will leave the program with new friends, greater self-confidence and an increased knowledge of the world around them.

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