This year’s student leadership program in North Bergen included 110 eighth grade students from the school district, including those from Guttenberg’s Anna L. Klein School, who will transition to North Bergen High School when they graduate.
“It’s eighth grade-based, and it’s student council members from each school in North Bergen,” said Kennedy School Providing Enrichment and Accelerated Knowledge P.E.A.K. teacher Stephanie LeJeune. “They come together once a year and focus on different leadership skill themes. This year we have loyalty, cooperation, persistence, determination, and ambition.”
For a school day, kids sit at tables at North Bergen High School and participate in activities and ice breakers.
“I think [the program is] great because our leaders are together and we learn how to cooperate with each other,” said Anna L. Klein student Eddie Sanchez.
“It shows us that all of us are leaders in different ways, but all of us need each other to become great leaders,” said Horace Mann student Christina Santin.
“It lets our potential bloom,” said Lincoln School student Nada Zohayr.
Teamwork and individuality
In order for students to get to know their future high school peers, Heather Carline, who runs the Gifted and Talented Program for the school district, decided this year to split the tables so that students were from all different schools.
“These are kids that don’t know each other from other schools and for some of them, it’s their first time setting foot in North Bergen High School,” said Carline.
“It gives us a chance to be together since all of us are in different schools,” said John F. Kennedy student Alanas Delosantos.
Activities began with students from each table putting together a puzzle of a famous leader. The puzzles included Abraham Lincoln, President Barack Obama, Albert Einstein, Oprah Winfrey, Rosa Parks, Walt Disney and, surprisingly, pop star Justin Bieber.
Many students argued over whether Justin Bieber was a “leader.” Carline did agree that, although he should not have been compared to President Obama, he still has a large following and has made an impact. Not only was Abraham Lincoln one of the leader puzzles, each table also had a famous Lincoln quotes.
“The program is great because we get to work with different types of people and we understand how to be a leader and what it takes to be a leader.” – McKinley student Jysenia Maldonado
In order to extend the lesson in leadership, mayor and Assistant Schools Superintendent Nicholas Sacco, Superintendent Robert Dandorph, Supervisor of the Star Program John Belluardo, and Director of Special Services Robert Kornberg addressed the students.
“There are many types of leaders, and everybody in this room is a leader,” said Sacco.
“I’m very content in knowing that you’re going to be our leaders of the future,” said Dandorph.
“When you get up to the high school, we want you to get involved in as many [activities] as you can,” said Belluardo. “That’s part of being a great leader. In order to be better, you need to be involved.”
“[The program] creates part of a foundation that we’re trying to emanate in the school district for our kids to be leaders,” said Kornberg. “We’re looking for our next generation to become leaders. [The program] gives them a spring board to know what leadership is and to experience it.”
Horace Mann’s music teacher Melissa Welz was also a part of the program and she wrote a short leadership musical. The Horace Mann students who performed in the musical were sixth graders Sarah DeCaro and Brenda Gutierrez; seventh graders Amanda Garcia and Lauren Cabrera; and eighth graders Emmanuel Uribe, Emily Torres, Chelsea Mesa, Bryanna Acosta, and Nicole Marin. Those involved in the musical compared taking a test to riding a roller coaster and facing one’s fears.
A representative from each school presented a banner printed with a word that related to leadership skills. The words were: loyalty, cooperation, persistence, determination, peace and ambition.
“We feel the word determination describes us because we were very determined to learn English,” said Robert Fulton Annex student Dulce Coste. Fulton is a bilingual school. “I’m having a lot of fun and meeting a lot of new people.”
“We felt [peace] was the most powerful word,” said Robert Fulton student Kenza Bouanane. “It seems cliché, but it’s the word that is essential for society.”
McKinley student Jysenia Maldonado was happy with the day.
“The program is great because we get to work with different types of people and we understand how to be a leader and what it takes to be a leader,” she said.
Vanessa Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org