Students Lead and Learn at Godwin Middle School

Students at the 2015 InCredAble Conference
Students at the 2015 InCredAble Conference

On April 9th, more than 30 George Mason University students headed to Godwin Middle School in nearby Woodbridge to lead the third annual InCredAble Leadership Conference for 150 Godwin students. The conference concludes a year of collaboration, leadership training and friendship between the George Mason and Godwin students.

In 2014, Mason’s Leadership Education And Development (LEAD) Associate Director Lisa Snyder began initial discussions about a school partnership with teaching staff at Godwin. Student Leadership Consultants from the LEAD Office, members from the L-TEAM, and volunteers from the Leadership and Community Engagement Living Learning Community (LLC) assumed all planning and organizational responsibilities for the partnership.

Mason students conducted the first InCreadAble Leadership Conference for nearly 100 Godwin students. The idea came from Mason Alum, Yasmeen Hayden who after participating in the Mason LeaderShape Institute had a vision to create a comprehensive leadership program for local area middle school students.

This academic year, the Mason volunteers, led by Student Leadership Consultants, Taylor Sprague, Amber Falls, Kayla Vaughan, and Courtney Metcalf solidified and expanded the program to include a chain of leadership workshops that occurred throughout the academic year. Three workshops, one teen night and the leadership conference kept the Mason and Godwin students busy. A $2,000 grant from the Target Corporation has helped fund both the Teen Night and the conference.

Sprague said, “Leadership development is huge for me. I am glad that we can use it as a way to provide additional opportunities for students. I think it is a great way for them to find community and create community.”

LLC member Katherine Quigley volunteers with the Godwin program and connects with the students. She said, “Everyone thinks, ‘Ugh, middle school.’ Then you get there and you meet students with such potential and such heart. . . We were all awkward middle school students and we all needed that support. These students face a lot more negative pressures than I did, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need support.”

Although one obvious goal of the activities is to help Godwin students develop as leaders, the Mason team tries to incorporate other aspects into the program. For example, this year’s teen night was inspired by comments raised at last year’s conference. Many Godwin students expressed a desire to have a safe space to socialize and meet one another after school.

The Mason team heard these concerns and created a teen night at the school, which included popcorn, snacks, a photo booth, games and performances by different groups including Urbanknowledgy 101, Kappa Alpha Psi, Patriot Pitches, and Lambda Theta Alpha campus Greek organizations. The event wouldn’t have been a success without the 30+ student volunteers from the L-TEAM, Alpha Omicron Phi, and the Leadership and Community Engagement LLC.

The April conference brought together many of the concepts covered throughout the year and highlight a range of topics including the importance of teamwork, communication and self-expression. Other practical sessions focused on the safe use of social media and creating a positive self-image.

Quigley co-facilitated a session called “Finding the Value in Your Voice” at the conference. She said, “The session helps students understand the value of speaking up. We work from where we are in life right now and figure out ways that we can speak up for things we value. It’s important for these students especially, to know their voices have value, and they can be heard.”

Director of Social Action and Integrative Studies (SAIL), Patty Mathison has assisted with several Godwin activities and remarked on the partnership’s impact.

She said, “This is a perfect example of Mason seeing a need and finding a longer term solution, making a commitment to our community.”

Mathison also noted the skills and impact the partnership has had on the Mason students. She said, “The Mason students are learning what it’s like to run these programs, plan events, understand capacity and manage volunteers… Everyone comes from different experiences. Our students see the Godwin youth for their strengths and what they bring to the table. The Mason students will gain just as much as the Godwin students from this program."

Snyder said, “I am continually amazed by the dedication of our Mason students and their commitment to making a positive change within the community. Every thing that happens at Godwin Middle School from the leadership workshops, teen night, and InCredAble Conference is completely student run, student led, and student driven.”