By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
In preparation for STRIDES (Students Taking Roles In Developing Educational Success) Day next Monday, about 60 Liberty-Benton High School students went down the road to Gateway Church on Wednesday for leadership training and an introduction to the activities their groups will take on next week.
The school’s first leadership day was held 15 years ago, Principal Brenda Frankart said. The next year, it turned into STRIDES to carry the spirit of the day throughout the year.
On Monday, students will do “icebreakers” in the morning and get to know their groups, which will include members from all grades.
In the afternoon, they’ll participate in challenges designed to require cooperation. For example, students will transport a tennis ball on a ring connected to strings over to a plastic cone. The goal is to gently lower the ball to the top of the cone so it does not fall off.
In another activity, half the students will be blindfolded “tanks” directed by “drivers” to pick up and throw foam balls at other teams to eliminate them.
The leaders trained Wednesday will be like “team captains,” Frankart said. They’re mostly seniors and juniors, with some sophomores, and were selected after an application process.
Olivia Christiansen, a senior in her third year as a leader, said it was something her mom wanted her to do, but added, “I’ve always loved being a leader.”
Junior Luke Sunderman said he was inspired to apply because as a freshman he had a great leader, Caisey Hardy-Fowler.
“We had a lot of fun in that group,” said Sunderman, who is in his second year as a leader.
The best part of the day is finding out what the afternoon activities are, Christiansen said.
One past favorite was the “human bridge,” which was a competition to see which group could span the longest distance while making sure to follow rules about how many feet, hands and other body parts could touch the ground, Sunderman said.
A teacher monitors each group, but the teacher stays in the background.
“We’re like the teachers of the group,” Christiansen said. The student leaders “participate and supervise.”
After STRIDES Day is over, students continue meeting in their groups for 30 minutes every few weeks. Throughout the year, the groups are friendly competitors in activities like canned food drives and collections for nursing homes or City Mission. Each group also plans its own service project.
STRIDES helps give new students a sense of the school and its culture, Frankart said. Getting new students is relatively common, as parents move to Findlay and the surrounding area to work for Marathon or other large employers, she said.
Frankart remembers one new student who was not excited about STRIDES and its “touchy-feely” cooperative activities. By her senior year, though, she had applied to be a leader and was telling fellow students how the program had helped her.
It takes time to plan STRIDES each year, Frankart said, but it makes time later in the year more positive because of the “better behavior, higher expectations and more accepting culture” the program encourages.