High hopes: Learning leadership skills at Amherst Regional High School

  • From left: Amherst Regional High School students Lenira Monteiro, Zora Dallmann, Sophie Schilling, Rachel Kawall, Madison Layer, Vianka Acosta, Brandy Hernandez and Monica Cage. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

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    !#c40m100!Lenira Monteiro, Junior“At first, I’m going to be honest, I didn’t want to go,” Monteiro said. But that changed for her "When we broke off into little groups and talked about real world problems ... and how we could change things in out communities." She says she’s most interested in working on issues of homelessness.

  • !#c40m100!Monica Cage, Sophomore

  • !#c40m100!Zora Dallman, JuniorWhen Dallman signed up for the workshop, she found out her family has ties to the League of Women Voters — her grandmother had been involved in the group. “It’s a big thing in our family and I didn’t know,” she said.At the event, another student presented on institutional racism, and prompted Dallman and the other students saying, think about how many teachers of color you’ve had. Dallman could remember very few. “That was shocking to me and I hadn’t thought of it before,” she said. Those comments from another student made her think more deeply about institutional racism. “It was very important and made me realize I need to pay more attention to it,” she said.

  • !#c40m100!Rachel Kawall, Senior“It was definitely empowering — but also awakening,” Rachel Kawall, captain of the field hockey team, said.“All through high school, I’ve never had an experience like that,” she added.At the conference, legislator Mindy Domb invited the students to her office in Boston. But that would require funding — so Kawall went looking for some. She applied for money through the Amherst Parent Guardian Organization, which happened to be taking applications for project funding, and she was granted $200 in October to put toward a trip, according to the PGO.Kawal’’s organizing a trip to Boston in early April, which she hopes will further strengthen the sense of confidence she felt after the conference. “Going and seeing women in office doing big things affecting our society will leave us with the same feeling,” she said.

  • !#c40m100!Eva Weintraub, Junior Weintraub didn’t always feel confident, but she thought the program could help. “Confidence, that was definitely a big focus for me,” she said. She found the workshop powerful, learning from the speakers how to talk confidently to people. “We don’t learn that kind of stuff in school,” she said.“Just being in a space with empowered people empowers you,” she said.Then, after 11 people were killed in October at a shooting in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Weintraub, who is involved in a local Jewish youth group, felt that the school needed to talk about it. So she organized a meeting to address anti-Semitism and the shooting, telling the school about it over the school loudspeaker.“That seemed necessary and it seemed no one would step up,” she said. Jewish and non-Jewish adults and students alike showed up to the event, and the adults listened to the students, Weintraub said.

  • !#c40m100!Ella Budington, Junior

  • !#c40m100!Sophie Schilling, Junior

  • !#c40m100!Madison Layer, Senior

  • Vianka Acosta, Junior STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Vianka Acosta, from left, Lenira Monteiro, Brandy Hernandez and Monica Cage talk at Amherst Regional High School. The girls all attended a League of Women Voters leadership workshop. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Liz Haygood, second from left, talks with Monica Cage, Vianka Acosta, Lenira Monteiro and Brandy Hernandez. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Madison Layer, Amherst Regional High School STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Brandy Hernandez, Amherst Regional High School STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Rachel Kawall, Senior STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • !#c40m100!Vianka Acosta, Junior“I thought the room felt very powerful — in the best of ways,” Acosta said of the workshop. She wants to work on immigration issues to help more people understand problems such as family separations at the U.S. Mexico border. Now she’s thinking about becoming a lawyer.“The whole thing got me motivated to speak up and have a voice,” she said.

Published: 3/21/2019 4:02:47 PM

Neither Cynthia Brubaker nor Rebecca Fricke are strangers to women’s movements. Both have been presidents of the Amherst’s League of Women Voters chapter. But following the 2016 Women’s March, they were inspired to engage more with younger generations.

“We began to talk about how we could reach out to young women,” Brubaker recalled of conversations with Fricke, “and teach them leadership skills so they become the voices of the future — so they get involved in the political process.”

The result of their brainstorming conversations: a leadership workshop for young women in 10, 11 and 12th grade at Amherst Regional High School. “1-2-3 Girls LEAD,” they titled it.

Fricke and Brubaker hoped to target girls who had leadership potential but weren’t already in leadership positions. Teaming up with Elizabeth Haygood, an ARHS health and physical education teacher, they were able to advertise the program to teachers and other staff throughout the school who nominated students.

The response from teachers was overwhelming — over 100 girls were nominated, according to Haygood.

Last fall, 23 girls spent the day at the training working on public speaking, talking about social justice issues and hearing from two speakers — including a state legislator.

State representative Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, gave a keynote speech, talking about her experience as a leader and her path to politics. And she invited the students to visit her office in Boston sometime to share their goals and visions.

“The girls didn't realize that someone like Mindy would want to hear them,” Fricke said. “To have a future state representative tell them their thoughts were important and that she wanted to continue to hear from them when she was elected — that was really powerful.”

Anastasia Ordonez, Amherst School Committee Chair and founder of a communications business, spoke about how to effectively campaign and communicate messages.

At the workshop, the students worked to brainstorm a list of issues they were interested in addressing, and after narrowing them down, they discussed how to confront them back at school. The group quickly came up with a long list of concerns, including racism, immigration, climate change, homelessness and food security, Fricke and Brubaker said. “They did not need much prompting,” Fricke said.

“Wow, we got a whole roomful of potential leaders,” Brubaker thought while working with the group. She was impressed by the passion they showed for issues and eagerness to organize. “I came away feeling very positive of the future,” she said.

What stuck out to Haygood was the bonding between students. “The most memorable takeaway was the girls from various backgrounds working together,” she said.

Fricke agreed. “It sort of naturally happened over the course of the morning, they grew to trust each other more and talked to each other,” she said.

The fall program was a pilot of sorts. Brubaker and Fricke hope to reach more young women and are considering expanding into other high schools next fall.

Back at school, Haygood has noticed the students stepping up more — like in the case of the student who spoke out against anti-semitism after the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

“The one that stands out the most is Eva Weintraub making a powerful speech over the loudspeaker directly after the attack on the synagogue in Pennsylvania,” Haygood recalled.

Beneath the individual portraits at the top of the page, Weintraub and other students share what they took away from the program and their leadership goals.

Greta Jochem is a staff writer at the Daily Hampshire Gazette where she covers the environment and education. She can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com


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