Thirty Cartersville High School students last week convened at Cartersville First Baptist Church to take part in the school-sponsored IMPACT, a three-day academy where students engage in team-building exercises and learn about leadership.
Superintendent Howard Hinesley initiated the program last year, having to use a local motel as the meeting grounds. He asked baseball coach and math teacher Drew Startup to oversee operations.
"The first year I raised the money privately, but we got so many positive reviews from the kids who participated and their families that the school board looked at its funding and decided we wanted to keep it going on," Hinesley said. "The main thing I was interested in, no matter what we did, we needed a cross section of students from all walks of life so that hopefully in five to six years we'll have so many kids who have gone through it, you'll really be able to see a visible difference [at CHS]."
Startup said this year's theme was "Overcoming Obstacles" and dealt with teaching teens how to communicate and work together.
"Our ultimate goal is to teach these kids leadership skills so when they go back to school this upcoming year, they will be able to impact their peers and hopefully bring Cartersville High School together as one big family," Startup said.
Startup said students who showed leadership potential were selected for IMPACT and many were recommended by their teachers. He said although the activities in IMPACT were fun, the intent is for students to learn.
"We do some interactive team building activities where the team has to come up with a strategy to complete a certain task and they learn about their personal strengths and weaknesses as leaders through that," Startup said. "We also have had different leaders in the community come in and speak about leadership."
Examples of the activities include a game titled "Pipeline," where students had to transfer rubber balls from one container to the next using piping too short to easily complete the task. Another was "Minefield," where a student had to blindly walk through an obstacle course being navigated by the instruction of teammates.
"A lot of these kids don't know each other, so now when they get back to school they know some new people and they're able to build relationships with different types of people," Startup said.
Startup said the biggest obstacle he's seen teens face in becoming leaders is judgment.
"[Teens] may automatically judge people for what they see on the outside or how they act and don't take time to ask, 'How are you doing, is there anything I can do?'" Startup said. "That's the barrier we see a lot and are trying to break down."
Principal Jay Floyd said IMPACT, along with other student leadership programs, were essential for student life at CHS.
"There's nothing better than having a leadership program in place so students can learn how to lead their peers," Floyd said. "This number of students will multiply several times the number of students [in the fall] who will be impacted, and that's the whole key to the program."
Student Conner Wood will be entering her senior year this fall. She said she enjoyed how the school used IMPACT to encourage leadership.
"I really enjoyed all the teamwork and we had some really great speakers come speak to us about being creative and overcoming obstacles," Wood said. "I hope that I can impact students to show them how it's OK to be different, that it's OK not to judge people and that it's OK for all of us to be equal as a student body."
Kaleb Edwards, an upcoming 10th grader, said IMPACT was a great learning experience.
"There were a lot of things I learned this week, not only in other people, but in myself too," Edwards said. "In some of the games that we did, I learned about trusting and communicating with others, and some of the stories I heard really got to me. This has made a really big impact on my life."