It might look like they’re just playing games, but nine McPherson Middle School students are learning to be leaders.

It might look like they’re just playing games, but nine McPherson Middle School students are learning to be leaders.
These students are in the YMCA ambassadors program, which started this year. They meet during eighth hour every Tuesday to learn life lessons through games and activities.
“Today’s focus was on gossip and how it changes as the story goes,” said Konner Bergstrom, program director, of Tuesday’s meeting. “This is to show that in a fun way.”
To illustrate the point, students played a game in which they had to show each other how to do a complex series of arm movements. By the end, the movements bore little resemblance to the original series.
Bergstrom said the program started as an after-school activity at the YMCA. Jeff Allmon, a counselor at the middle school, said the school wanted to bring it into the building.
“We needed some leadership opportunities, and some kids needed a place to belong,” Allmon said.
The program is based on the district’s eight keys of excellence and YMCA’s core values, which Bergstrom said line up well. These values include flexibility, integrity and commitment.
“A lot of these kids walk home and aren’t necessarily in extracurricular activities,” Bergstrom said. “It’s a way for them to be involved in something.”
Students were selected at the beginning of the year to be in the program. As more students heard about it, others became interested and asked if they could join.
“That’s tough for some kids to do,” Allmon said. “They might be doing it for the first time.”
Rachel Carlson, a sixth-grader in the program, said it’s a fun way to learn new skills.
“It’s a whole bunch of games that teach us how to be leaders,” she said. “Sometimes you get too competitive and don’t learn, but mot of the time they’re good.”
Tucker Arnold, and eighth-grader in the program, said he thinks its good preparation for the future.
“They teach you teamwork and leadership,” Arnold said. “When you get older, you’re more responsible.”
The students also will be able to attend Camp Wood, a YMCA camp in Emporia, in mid-July, where they’ll learn about and discuss values for a week.
Cheri Shaver is the senior program director at Camp Wood and helped write the curriculum for YMCA ambassadors. She said teaching leadership early is important for student development.
“The impact they have on younger kids is huge,” Shaver said. “If we can instill those values now, they’ll think about being good role models.”
Because the program is new, Allmon said it’s not clear now what affect the program will have in the future. However, he said he believes the current students are already seeing benefits.
“I think kids feel more connected,” he said. “They appear to fit in better.”