Walnut Grove High School’s Student Steering Committee has existed for about 15 months, but Lauren Escobar can already see the difference.

Escobar, a senior, participated in the group specifically designed to create a culture of leadership across campus.

“Student steering was an amazing program to be involved in, and I hope many more students will get the opportunity to find out more about who they are, how they solve programs and what kind of leaders they are,” Escobar said.

The University of Georgia’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, in collaboration with Walnut Grove High School, created a leadership initiative that simultaneously would build leadership throughout the school and prepare students for the future. This initiative combined skills development with authentic youth engagement to create a lasting impact. Fanning faculty Lauren Healey, Lori Tiller and Brendan Leahy facilitated the program.

“We are so excited to be a part of this process,” Healey said. “The level of commitment and support from everyone at Walnut Grove High School — from the custodial staff and media specialist to the faculty and students — has been outstanding.”

Eighty-seven students have participated in leadership training since the program started in September 2015. An additional 11 students were selected to serve as members of the steering committee’s board of directors. Board members help facilitate strategic planning for the steering committee and provide a link between teacher sponsors, administration and students.

“I love this program!” said Brooke Parker, a junior. “I finally have the opportunity to change my school and make our school more fun and better for new students and incoming freshmen to have opportunities for a great experience here at Walnut Grove.”

In addition to skills training, Fanning faculty facilitated a strategic planning process that encouraged students to identify areas of school improvement and developed a plan to address the issues. School spirit and student incentives emerged as priorities.

Last spring, students created and implemented Warrior Day, an end-of-the-year festival for students to celebrate a successful school year. Students also planned a club fair to advertise student opportunities during lunch, created a student committee to plan pep rallies and added a Sadie Hawkins dance to spring events.

Students also developed the “Everyday Warrior” project, where students are nominated by teachers and receive recognition for being role models.

Student-led activities are planned this spring for students who meet the outlined qualifications.

“This is a model program for youth engagement that can be adapted to any school across the state,” Healey said.

For more information about this program or ways your community can use the Youth Leadership in Action© curriculum to develop a culture of leadership, contact public service associate Lauren Healey.