Saturday, October 10 , 2015, 10:34 am | Fair 86º

Marymount Leadership Program Aims to Help Students Take ‘Steps Forward’

By Molly Seguel for Marymount of Santa Barbara |

Working in highly coordinated and organized teams, groups of Marymount Middle School students spread out through regions of Santa Barbara on Friday in a search for leaders in the community. This exercise was part of a program at Marymount to develop leadership skills in students.

Marymount’s leadership program has been a key differentiator and strength of the school for many years. The success of the program is evident in Marymount’s graduates, many of whom credit Marymount for preparing them for leadership roles in high school and beyond. Marymount’s newly created “Steps Forward” Program takes this program a step further.

Paul Tough, author of the bestselling How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, came to speak at Marymount to gathered parents and educators in November. His research points toward necessary skills that young people need to be successful in school and in life. His research also reveals the lack of success of many widely accepted character programs in the United States.

Marymount’s Step Forward Program is a research-based program uniquely designed by Marymount faculty and administration to develop character and leadership in students in a way that has impact and makes a difference in students’ lives.

Marymount Middle School P.E. teacher Karen Keltner explained that the development of the program started with the question, “How do we really assess student character qualities such as zest, curiosity and grit?” From that point of inquiry, and given the administrative directive of ensuring that the program used 21st-century teaching techniques such as learning in collaboration and thoughtful use of technology, faculty and administration designed a program that would allow students to “try on” and model character traits through a set of experiences.

The program is specifically designed “to challenge students to a deeper inquiry of themselves and to look beyond their peers for direction and role models,” Keltner said.

Part of the students’ exploration of leadership is to find and get to know real leaders in the Santa Barbara community. Zone 6 was covered by a group of nine seventh-graders and covered several blocks of lower State Street and Stearns Wharf. Students introduced themselves, interviewed and asked for permission to film the people they met.

One of them was Jackie Hunt, who runs community outreach for the Ty Warner Sea Center on Stearns Wharf.

“Leaders care,” she told the students. “Real leadership is not about financial gain or ego. It’s about caring.” She added that “leadership is also about perseverance and not losing hope or direction when no one shows up to support something you have done.”

Not long after, Marymount Middle School students found themselves in a loft office decorated with ukuleles hanging from the ceiling and walls — the inner sanctum of Santa Barbara’s famous surfing retailer, the Beach House. Roger Nance has owned the Beach House for 34 years and introduced the students to another style of leadership.

“I lead by surrounding myself with a team of leaders,” he told the students as they took notes and filmed, “and by sharing my passion for surfing and surfing history.”

The Steps Forward Program is designed to inspire students to find their passions and to learn the skills they need to use those passions constructively for a good purpose. Marymount Middle School students will create a website that will be lasting infrastructure of the project, hopefully added to by students each year.

“Using solid research, technology, an enormous amount of creativity, and the best of 21st-century teaching techniques, the new program is building a group of young leaders who will make a positive impact as citizens in their communities,” said Andrew Wooden, Marymount head of school.

Marymount is an independent coeducational school, junior kindergarten through eighth grade, on a picturesque 10-acre campus nestled on the Santa Barbara Riviera. Building on a 75-year tradition of excellence, the educators at Marymount have crafted a unique learning experience that blends mastery of core subjects with acquisition of the essential skills students need to navigate and be successful in a rapidly evolving world.

— Molly Seguel is the admissions director for Marymount of Santa Barbara.

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