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Common Good Leadership Concludes Inaugural Summer on The Island

Eleven participants in the Loomis Chaffee Summer Program's inaugural Common Good Leadership course concluded their five-week immersive learning experience in late July by sharing their reflections and acknowledging their progress.

The Common Good Leadership curriculum was developed by Jim O'Donnell, director of the Summer Program, and taught by Jake Smith, Summer Program dean, as a way to introduce the students — all returners to the Summer Program — to the concepts and ideas of effective leadership, and give participants opportunities to put their emerging skills into action among their peers. They practiced these skills both in the familiar environment of the Summer Program and in new situations.

Common Good Leadership students, called summer proctors, served as assistants to the dorm faculty and helped in the planning, organization, and implementation of group activities for the Summer Program community, which required listening and collaborating with peer groups.

Common Good Leadership participants also engaged in a sustained exercise with students at the River Street School in Windsor, which serves adolescents and young adults on the autism spectrum. Through a series of visits, the summer proctors got to know and work with River Street School students with whom they were partnered. After meeting the students and learning more about them, the summer proctors interacted with students, teachers, and administrators to identify activities that might interest the individuals with whom they were partnered.

Based on these observations and interactions, the summer proctors prepared and led an engagement event with small groups of the River Street School students. The activities included a group yoga session, a hide-and-seek game with balls, a basketball game, a step-by-step "how-to" drawing session, and other arts and crafts activities.

The summer proctors said they were pleased with the outcome of their group activities even though they were somewhat apprehensive at first and, in some instances, the activities went in different directions than they had planned. The key to positive engagement with the students, the proctors acknowledged, was establishing a relationship first — listening, getting to know, and trying to understand the needs of their group members — before trying to lead them in the activity. Being patient and flexible with expectations also was important, they said. According to their reflections, the summer proctors found the experience rewarding, humbling, and eye-opening.

Summer proctor Nate Barr, a rising sophomore at Loomis, described his experience at River Street School as "incredible." He said he learned that "perseverance makes you strong, but perseverance with a smile makes you a leader." He also discovered that connecting with students on the autism spectrum was like making connections with anyone: You need to listen and try to "understand their experience." After several visits, Nate said, the fact that the students were autistic had less relevance to the objectives of the exercise.

Caiden Stewart, a four-year Summer Program participant from Hartford, said he was going to miss the River Street School students now that the program is over for this year. He enjoyed their interactions and the relationships they'd established. For him, he said, the summer proctor and Common Good Leadership course highlighted the importance, beyond his five-week summer experience, of persevering, taking responsibility, and managing his time.

Jim encouraged the summer proctors to use the positive leadership lessons they learned from the River Street School project, in the seminar classes, and in the relatively small and uncomplicated Summer Program community to form their own leadership philosophies. He said a personal philosophy can guide them when they return to their schools and communities, help them to continue the growth trajectory established this summer, and further develop their emerging leadership qualities.

"Listening leads to understanding, which leads to empathy, which leads to mutual respect," Jim said at the course wrap-up session. "Leadership is personal — it's a way of being. Now you begin."

The Common Good Leadership course is one of the many opportunities offered by the Loomis Chaffee Summer Program, which enables students entering grades 7 through 12 to take a deep dive into the kind of learning that happens within the time and space of summer — without the time restrictions of the normal school year. This year's Summer Program, which concluded its seventh season on July 28, enrolled more than 120 students from across the United States and abroad for the program's comprehensive five-week program of learning, discovery, enrichment, and reflection.