Young Student Leaders Connect for Day of Togetherness and Fun

By DAVID BIGGY | Jun 05, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy McKinley Avenue School student Rebecca Lockwood and Stafford Intermediate student Elle Cramer try to keep their balance as they work on moving forward together during the 22nd annual Peace Summit, hosted by Stafford Schools on May 30.

Stafford Township — Stafford sixth-grader Julianna Marco has a great understanding of what it means to be a leader. She put those leadership skills on display during the 22nd annual Peace Summit on May 30.

“Being a leader is about taking charge and being a role model for others, but it’s also about including others to be part of the team,” said the Stafford Intermediate School student after she and peer leaders Jess Smart and Kaycee Callanan directed groups of students on how, without using their hands, to maneuver beach balls connected to each other from one spot to another.

“When you’re leading others, it’s mostly about teamwork and how to make the team better. You combine the strengths of everybody involved to build a strong team, and eventually everybody gets better.”

Developed in the late 1990s as a means of connecting student leaders from area schools for a day of team-building activities and fun, this year’s Peace Summit was hosted by the Stafford Township School District at the Ocean Acres Community Center. It brought together 190 students from nine schools – Southern Regional High School, Stafford Intermediate, Stafford’s McKinley Avenue School, Long Beach Island Grade School, Clara B. Worth School in Bayville, and four from Lacey Township: Cedar Creek Elementary, Mill Pond Elementary, Lanoka Harbor Elementary and Forked River Elementary.

“This is our 18th year hosting the Peace Summit. It’s a great opportunity for kids to get together to develop their leadership skills while meeting students they don’t see on a daily basis,” said Stafford peer leader advisor Eric Miller. “It’s important that our students learn that you’re never too young to learn to work with people. And that’s what the Peace Summit highlights.”

LBI School sixth-grader Keegan Foote, who had been part of the three previous Peace Summits, was one of the student instructors for an activity in which team members had to pair up and use huge “chop sticks” to pick up inanimate objects off the ground and maneuver them to another spot on the field.

“What I like about this is I get to meet new people and make new friends,” said Foote, part of the school’s Student Assisted Interactive Leadership (SAIL) program. “It’s really interesting to hear the thoughts of other people on things. You go through the activities and learn something you might not have known. Or you hear an idea you didn’t think of. And it’s fun.”

Early on in the fun of Peace Summit, students spent a lot of time going through interactive exercises designed to get them to know a little about each other. Once outside, the activities utilized the skills of each student as a means of building up each other and further getting to know one another.

Belle Placa, a sixth-grader at LBI School and also in her fourth Peace Summit, had the pleasure of leading students through activities that involved tossing around water balloons, among other things.

“Being a part of the Peace Summit has helped me break out of my shell, as I experienced new challenges and met new people,” said Placa, who is looking forward to moving on to Southern Regional Middle School with many of the sixth-graders she already knows from Stafford Intermediate. “It’s good practice on how to be a leader as we experience other points of view. And today, I got to work alongside with a student from Intermediate I already know and love, Lily Plesniarski. So that was great!”

This year’s Peace Summit was Callanan’s third. She’s been grateful for the opportunity to be a leader.

“This helps me concentrate and communicate more, and that makes me a better person,” she said. “It’s great to meet new people and help them out while having a great time.”

Smart, who transferred to LBI School from Balmville Elementary in Newburgh, N.Y., last September, was experiencing the Peace Summit for the first time. She fit in right away as one of the activity leaders.

“I’m not a shy person, so I got mixed into things right away,” said Smart, whose previous school didn’t have any kind of leadership group for students. “This is really fun and it helps introduce me to more kids my age, as I help out the younger ones I might be in school with at Southern.”

Emily Raney, part of Southern’s STYLE leadership group under the direction of advisor Michael Benson, said the best part of the Peace Summit is it “goes beyond town lines.”

“Here, we develop friendships and do things that help get us on the same page with other students, and it proves that nothing really is separating us,” she said. “With this, we’re pushing boundaries aside and we’re all one. Everybody has strengths, even if they’re small, but together we can make them greater strengths.”

Of course, perhaps the one person among the crowd who understands that aspect very well was Janelle Gosline, a former Southern STYLE leader now teaching at the LBI School and advising the SAIL students.

“Being a student leader helped me develop better communication skills and boosted my confidence,” Gosline said. “When I was in STYLE, I was part of this Peace Summit and it greatly benefited me. So when I started teaching at LBI School, I wanted to develop a leadership group so these students could experience what I did. There’s power in kids inspiring other kids. When kids are put into leadership roles, they really excel in so many ways. This is just one more way to help them flourish and become the leaders they can be.”

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