Leadership and respect begin at an early age | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Leadership and respect begin at an early age

Jeff Munson
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Meeting in the "huddle" exercise, clockwise from middle top are, Bianca Perciado, Casey Cabristante, Laura Sears, Amy Rich, Sarah Weidenhammer, Ciara Cook and Daisey Fonseca. The game is designed to allow students to get to know each other better.

As a child’s personality begins to take shape during the adolescent years, schoolteachers are generally among the first to notice personality traits.

Those who are shy and reserved tend to stand away from the crowds, while those who like attention usually have a cadre of fellow pupils chattering around them.

For seven years, South Tahoe Middle School teacher Suzy Krzaczek is one to stir the proverbial socialization pot. Whether students are outgoing or shy, introverted or extroverted, tall or short, English speaking or just learning the language, Krzaczek is changing the dynamics of the school through the power of positive thinking and leadership. And she’s doing it in the classroom.

Krzaczek’s aim is not so much about building future leaders for the business world as it is about building self-confidence. A leader is one who doesn’t discriminate, is friendly to others and is willing to help someone when they are down, she says.

“That’s a big one,” she said of the latter. “Any student can have power and be in powerful positions, but a leader is one to have the courage to stand up for what is right for others.”

The result is a school with less cliques and more integration among ethnic groups, her students say.

Eighth-grader Bianca Preciado said before taking Krzaczek’s leadership class she had a hard enough time talking to friends let alone groups of students. But after taking the class, Bianca’s a changed person.

“Before I wasn’t brave enough to go up in front of the class. I would get scared. Now it’s fun,” the 13 year-old said.

Even though Jackie Nelson has been principal for less than a year, she’s seen a difference in students firsthand. In fact, one of her own children went through Krzaczek’s class.

“The kind of skills that she is helping students to acquire and practice – leadership skills overall – are those they will be able to use at not only South Tahoe Middle School but high school and whatever they are involved with in life,” Nelson said. “We know that one of the highest priorities for employers is to have employees who have a broad range of social competencies. All the things that Suzy is guiding the students to do helps develop what students need to know in life.”

Her methods for instructing the leadership class have come from workshops, teaching summer camp and attending conferences that train teachers how to teach peer leadership.

“I’ve been teaching the concepts for seven years, slowly building the program here as an elective class,” she said. “I focus on public speaking, life skills, maintaining a good attitude and being a better person.”

Her classes are composed of readings and lectures, as well as putting practical situations to work in the form of skits and role playing. There’s any number of ways to look at a common situation involving peer relationships at school. Sometimes it takes turning the tables for them to see the truths in front of them, she said.

Students can’t wait to get into her class. There’s a waiting list of more than 100 pupils to get into three of Krzaczek’s elective classes offered at the middle school this year.

Last Thursday, Krzaczek put her own students to the leadership test with much younger ones at a three-hour rally at Al Tahoe Elementary School. As part of her leadership class, 45 of her students provided the support staff she needed to keep the 160 students from Bijou and Sierra House elementary schools occupied for the leadership session.

In a move that not only surprised the elementary students who attended the workshop but Krzaczek herself, her leadership students gathered before the students arrived and made a pact among themselves to make the experience the best possible for the elementary students.

And so, without being told, the 45 South Tahoe Middle School leadership students greeted each incoming student to the workshop with a hello and a high-five.

“I was enthusiastic for the day, but my kids took it to another level,” Krzaczek said.

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