Maine South program develops influential teens
Maine South's South Stars program leader Molly Gaughan places a card on Zach Parker's head during an activity Nov. 7 at the school in Park Ridge. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 15, 2012 11:44AM
PARK RIDGE – Gehrig Parker is getting a lesson in leadership.
The Maine South High School junior is a member of South Stars, a school-based program designed to turn teens into student leaders and, in turn, use their skills to positively influence others.
Over the summer, Parker and three of his Maine South peers — Kelly Kons, Sarah Otis and Clay Burdelik — traveled to the J. Kyle Braid Leadership Foundation’s Colorado ranch where they learned skills necessary to help their peers make responsible decisions, improve their self-esteem, resist negative peer pressure and better resolve conflicts.
“It was pretty life-changing,” Parker said. “You meet a bunch of people who share the same beliefs as you and want to make their schools and community a better place.”
The students now use what they learned at the ranch to help teach the South Stars class, which meets weekly during Wednesday collaboration days when most students have an opportunity to sleep in.
In addition to the juniors who attended the JKB Ranch over the summer, the class is also taught by seniors Allison Curry, Molly Gaughan, Matt Alviti and Nate Wolf under the supervision of Steve Adams, Maine South’s athletic director who started South Stars eight years ago.
“They’ll typically run the show, and I serve as the adult supervisor, helping out anywhere I can. But really, it’s students teaching students,” Adams said.
South Stars lessons are based on the positive-thinking principles found in the book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens,” by Sean Covey. Students learn skills such as becoming better listeners, negotiating with others and how to help if a peer shows signs of depression or is considering using drugs or alcohol, said Maine South teacher Laura Kirshner, who is involved in the JKB leadership component of South Stars. A panel of students and faculty select the four students who will attend each year’s leadership camp.
Coaches nominate students to attend South Stars based on leadership qualities they have shown. Classes have had anywhere from 36 to 50 sophomores.
“We tell them, ‘Choose people who are currently leaders and who you think have the potential to be a captain as a senior. Don’t choose people who you want us to develop into leaders,’” Adams said. “That is not what the class is for. This class is for students who have shown leadership skills, and the class will help develop them.”
South Stars and the JKB participants most recently organized a collection of gently used or new sports equipment on the Maine South campus. Items will benefit the Sports Shed, which provides equipment to children who cannot afford it.
Katie Parker, the mother of Gehrig Parker and a member of Maine South Athletic Boosters, said she wishes more students could participate in programs like South Stars.
“It takes positive motivation and energy, and it helps the kids focus on so much outside of their own world,” she said.