CINCINNATI -- Untangling human knots and stacking boxes, a group of students from local Catholic schools tested and expanded their leadership skills recently at Purcell Marian High School’s 11th annual leadership conference.
Principals from 15 Catholic grade schools each nominated up to six students total from fifth, sixth and seventh grades that have shown leadership potential to attend the half-day conference at Purcell Marian in East Walnut Hills.
Participants worked in small groups that mixed students from different grades and schools, competing in activities such as building the tallest and best weight-bearing structure from cardboard boxes. For another activity, students had to untangle their human knot: They joined hands across a circle and had to unravel themselves without disconnecting hands.
The activities were designed by Purcell Marian students and staff to get the younger students working together as effective teams, said Veronica Murphy, Purcell Marian principal.
“They are thrown into situations where they have to use their skills of communication, listening and problem solving – all with strangers, essentially,” Murphy said.
Claire Reasoner, a fifth-grade student from Nativity School, said her participation in the event gave her more self-confidence and a greater trust in other people.
“I hadn’t really thought of myself as a leader before,” Reasoner said. “It’s easier to work with other people now. (The conference) helps you realize who you are and what you are capable of.”
While the students participated in the leadership-building activities, their parents were invited to a room next door to hear from speakers from Purcell and local businesses about leadership, planning ahead for students through college and what skills employers are looking for when hiring. Purcell students also presented tips for parents to prepare their children for high school.
Parents and students came together at the end of the event to hear from a keynote speaker, Cincinnati Police Department Capt. Kimberly Williams.
“This all helps parents to have a good mindset to help their child navigate the path to becoming an adult,” Murphy said.
Purcell Marian students and staff helped facilitate the day’s activities. Juniors Emma Hamilton of Oakley and Jordan Wright of Pleasant Ridge also attended the leadership conference when they were in grade school.
Wright said he enjoyed observing the students working together and watching the growth of the shy, quiet kids in the group.
“I love to see when I am leading a group when that quiet kid finally puts out their ideas and finally takes charge and they actually get things accomplished,” Wright said. “Then they get to watch whatever they built be successful because they actually spoke up.”
When Hamilton attended the conference as a seventh-grader, she was eager to develop her leadership skills.
“I really disliked taking charge unless I was in a situation where I have to. So (the conference) was teaching me how to better put myself into that situation and being more open to becoming a leader, whether it is a situation that I have to or not,” Hamilton said.
Now, as a facilitator at the event, Hamilton was in the position of helping develop the leadership skills of younger students.
“For some of these kids, even if they are not being the leader of a group or a business project or a school project, you are still your own leader and you still have to make decisions for yourself,” Hamilton said.