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Georgia 4-H helps build leadership through its Step Up and Lead program By Melanie Biersmith, Mandy B. Marable

Learning how to lead is often the best way for students to graduate high school with the skills needed to succeed in college and beyond.

For the past two years, Georgia 4-H and the Georgia Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals have been teaming up to cultivate leadership skills in Georgia’s younger students by organizing “Step Up and Lead” conferences across the state.

So far 1,500 elementary and middle school students have developed core leadership competencies by attending the conferences, and organizers plan to continue the program this school year.

During a Step Up and Lead conference, 4-H teen leaders and 4-H faculty and staff work together to help teach younger children how to cultivate their leadership skills through a series of interactive workshops and peer presentations.

The first workshop in the series, “Taking a Step Towards Powerful Presentations,” is designed to allow students the opportunity to develop and deliver a short presentation. Workshop facilitators focus on teaching students how to structure their work.

While the presenters learn a valuable lesson about public speaking and effective communication, students in the audience learn how to provide constructive feedback to their peers, as they discuss the effectiveness of their classmates’ presentations.

The skills that students learn in the first workshop provide the groundwork for the second workshop, “Teamwork, Leadership and What’s in Between.”

Here participants learn the importance of communication and teamwork in problem solving. Workshop facilitators guide the students through a variety of exercises that require the group to work together to find a practical solution.

Between every exercise the participants have a chance to reflect upon their experience and discuss the ways their team worked together and communicated with one another. The participants often find that having a plan and being able to effectively communicate it helps the team find a solution to the problem.

In the third workshop, “Mapping Our Plan,” students hone their planning skills by organizing a mock event. They use what they’ve learned about communication and problem solving to identify the steps they need to take to put on the event, how to allocate the resources they have and how to delegate responsibilities throughout the group. They also establish a production timeline for the event, and then they present their event plan to their classmates.

Georgia 4-H Extension specialists plan to continue the leadership program during the 2012-2013 school year. They plan to hold six Step Up and Lead conferences at different locations around the state.

Parents wanting to involve their children in this leadership program or other Georgia 4-H activities should visit georgia4h.org/gaesp.

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