By Todd Martin
Special to the Daily Herald
Eight years ago, a pair of visionary Ellison High School students planned a leadership conference for their Leadership Academy project.
On Friday, the academy hosted its eighth annual conference, drawing middle school and high school students from across the Killeen Independent School District and for the first time from four other school districts.
Hundreds of students chosen by educators for their leadership potential converged on the Killeen Civic and Conference Center for a creative dose of leadership learning.
They heard from Ellison High School Principal David Dominguez and Killeen ISD Superintendent Robert Muller, as well as Steve Farber, author of "Greater Than Yourself."
Much of the day, though, students were divided into mixed groups to take part in a series of games that challenged their communication skills and forced them to work together as a team.
In one game, team members worked together to move each student through a rope webbing without touching the rope and with some students designated as mutes.
In other games, students worked to move from one location to another on rubber pads, raced on long wooden skis and led each other through mazes while blindfolded.
Larissa Reichert, an Ellison senior and marketing and publicity chairwoman, said the conference is the academy's largest event of the year. She said students run the event and build the games.
The day of learning together motivates eighth- through 12th-graders to work together, and participants learn about their own personality and how to best use their strengths.
"The main goal is to walk away with new knowledge and to be able to communicate in a fun kind of way," she said.
The conference helps participants expand their minds and see the value in other people's gifts and abilities, Reichert said.
The Ellison High School Leadership Academy begins its year in August with a retreat for members to build camaraderie and learn about their own personality traits.
Students work throughout the year on professional internships and develop leadership projects throughout the year.
"We can step back and work together as a team," Reichert said of the annual conference, which academy members organize to reach out to students from other schools.
"We want them to learn about themselves. It affects us a lot and we want them to experience it, too."
Opening the conference, Muller encouraged students to consider building a vision, to have courage, to serve others and to commit to continual learning.
Dominguez told students that taking on leadership means reflecting values that benefit everyone and extending those values even to those who disagree with them.
"It's important to choose to see the best in people," the principal said. "Take risks, communicate vision, and try to make it happen."