By Chris McGuinness
Killeen Daily Herald
More than 200 students from seven Central Texas school districts gathered at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center Friday to build their leadership skills.
Middle and high school students from the Killeen, Copperas Cove, Lampasas, Belton, Salado, Florence and Temple Independent School districts gathered to hear motivational speakers and participate in group activities focused on honing their skills in communication and teamwork.
The event, known as the Brandon Antal/Edward Huncherick Youth Leadership Conference, set itself apart from similar events as it was organized and run almost entirely by students from the Ellison High School
"We really put in a lot of work to make this happen," said Mariah Rushing, a 17-year-old senior at Ellison and the academy's chair of marketing and publicity. "We do everything from planning the event, to setting up and running the activities."
This year, the academy, which is made up of about 130 students mostly from Ellison, developed 16 activities to teach the conference attendees how to be effective leaders.
The activities included games like "team walking," where groups of six students used their feet and long planks to collectively navigate an obstacle course, to the "ultra-web," where groups led blindfolded members though a course of strings without touching them.
"We give them a story to go along with the activity, a scenario. Then, we explain the rules," said Kortni Taylor, an 11th-grade academy member who worked at the event as a "game leader."
"When the game is over, we go over what went right and what went wrong, and ask them what they learned and how they can apply the skills to their life."
Many of the games mixed students from different schools and districts, and were centered on communication and critical thinking skills.
"It's a pretty fun event, because you get to meet a lot of people you wouldn't normally talk to," said Elijah Timarky, a 10th-grade student and football player from Copperas Cove High School. "I think having good leadership skills is important, because when you get older, you're going to need them more and more as you get out in the world."
Hailey Hensley, a Copperas Cove High School freshman who attended the conference for the first time, agreed.
"It's been a lot of fun, and I like that they put us in groups with different people," said Hensley. "It challenges you to come out of your shell and build relationships with people you don't know, and you end up making some new friends."
The benefits of the activities and the academy are familiar to Rushing, who joined the group three years ago.
"Before I joined, I was quiet and shy," said Rushing. "(The academy) really helps you learn how to stand up and speak up and put yourself out there. It really helped me."
Rushing said this was only the second year that the academy invited other districts to the conference, and she expects the group will continue doing so in the future.
"We are really happy with how much it has grown," said Rushing.
With the conference in full swing, Rushing also said the group already was planning for next year. One of the activities at the conference was asking the academy's freshmen members to come up with new games for the next conference.
"After this is over, we will probably start planning for next year's conference tomorrow," said Rushing.
Contact Chris McGuinness at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568.