By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
Liberty-Benton High School students had a special visitor Wednesday for STRIDES (Students Taking Roles In Developing Educational Success) Day, as Paolo DeMaria, state superintendent of public instruction, stopped by to observe.
An annual event for about 15 years, STRIDES Day includes a variety of activities meant to build leadership skills. Students from different grade levels, who might not otherwise spend time together, complete physical and mental challenges in groups.
“With activities, it’s easier to bond, because you’re not just talking. You’re having fun,” said Abby Reynolds, a senior, when DeMaria asked her to tell him about STRIDES. “Some of these (activities), you have to get close and personal, so you really have to learn to make friends with different people.”
This was Reynolds’ second year as a STRIDES group leader.
STRIDES Day “really shows how to build your leadership, because you can’t get these things done without leaders on your team, and teamwork, because you have to use everybody’s strengths and weaknesses to their best abilities,” Reynolds said.
After STRIDES Day, students continue meeting in their groups throughout the year for activities and service projects, high school Principal Brenda Frankart said.
“It seems like it just builds a very cohesive student population,” DeMaria told one of the student groups. “The culture of your school must be really, like, smooth and everybody’s looking out for each other. That’s great.”
It’s the kind of event DeMaria would like to see at other schools.
“So many times, everybody thinks about the Department of Education focusing on all the academics and all that stuff, but this kind of, you know, school culture is so important, creating the conditions for students to really be successful,” DeMaria said.
Culture can’t be measured like test results can, but there’s still a measurable effect in areas like discipline or absenteeism, DeMaria said.
“When kids don’t feel safe, or kids don’t feel like they’re part of the family and connected, then they’re more likely” to be absent, drop out or get in fights, he said.
DeMaria also talked with Chad Marzec, a science teacher who served in the Army and helped Liberty-Benton High School earn the Purple Star designation from the Ohio Department of Education.
The designation “recognizes schools that show a major commitment to students and families connected to our nation’s military,” according to the Department of Education.