In a rare gathering of students across Central Texas, middle school and high school leaders worked together Friday to hone their growing skills.

The 11th annual Ellison High School BAEH Youth Leadership Conference attracted 520 students from Killeen, Temple, Belton, Salado, Florence, Copperas Cove and Lampasas to the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.

With guidance from the 147 Ellison High School Leadership Academy students, hundreds of teens cycled through 23 team-building games and heard from a range of local leaders and guest speaker Kevin Wanzer.

Ellison senior Kacey Davidson, events coordinator for the academy, presided over the games playing out across the conference center. She described a long process of planning that involved a team of students and drew from the academy’s past experience.

This year’s event was larger than ever and added four new team-building exercises. The academy planners checked inventory of supplies and did a “run through” of the activities earlier in the week.

“I think this is a great time to show what we’ve worked on in leadership,” said Davidson, a senior planning to attend the University of Texas business school. “We try to use our skills to help others with leadership and teamwork.

“We hope everyone who comes enjoys it. This is really a time for us to shine.”

A decade ago, Ellison seniors Brandon Antal and Edward Huncherick developed a leadership conference as a senior project that took place in the Ellison Auditorium and used two classrooms for breakout sessions. Today, the conference still bears the initials of its founders.

Underscoring the conference’s reach, Salado High School principal Burt Smith explained how Leadership Salado has embraced leadership development in that community.

Leaders in Salado expanded to form Youth Leadership Salado from established, emerging and potential leaders in the high school.

Those students go through nine sessions through the school year, exposing them to leaders in Austin and Bell County as well as the trip to Killeen and the Ellison Leadership Academy conference.

“We want them to understand what leaders do in a community,” Smith said. “Hopefully they will want to do it.”

Salado High School attended the conference Friday for the second time, bringing 27 students. “This is awesome,” Smith said. “I love that students get to come together and see ‘we’re all students.’”

Learning to communicate

Between rotations, Copperas Cove High School ninth-grader Caroline Harrison and Elisya Schafer of Shoemaker High School said they enjoyed learning lessons of communication.

“I like how we have to communicate with each other,” said Schafer, explaining a charades game that imposed limitations on students’ efforts to work together.

In one game, students were designated as mute or blind and still had to figure out ways to communicate, Harrison said. “It was a good experience,” she said, explaining that she hopes to use the lessons to become a leader in the high school band.

In another game, students used sections of pipe to guide a golf ball from person to person into a bucket. Using trial and error, students figured out how to work together to slow down the moving ball as they ran to stay in front of it. After 10 or so attempts, they cheered their team success.

Opening the conference, Ellison principal David Dominguez pointed out that future leaders would have their early lives digitally accessible because of the ever-expanding force of social media.

Emphasizing the importance of character, he urged students to lead with honesty, working to grow vision, show strong values and use voice wisely.

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