WALLENPAUPACK - A group of students embraced an opportunity to become leaders three years ago and recently, their efforts were recognized by Senator Lisa Baker.
At the meeting, the first 70 student ambassadors from Wallenpaupack Area High School spoke about a program they developed, that has offered them experiences and life lessons unlike anything else they have been involved in through their high school careers.
For many reasons, the ambassadors chose to be the first for a program that senior Max Alessi said he saw as a chance to support his school that has “uplifting teachers” who “encourage” their students to “work harder.” Sporting the eminent purple blazer that all ambassadors wear, Alessi was waiting outside of the front office, to escort the News Eagle to the event May 8. Being an ambassador, Alessi called an “honor” because he has met many people personally and enjoyed speaking with them.
When Baker arrived, she asked the students to tell her a little about themselves. After hearing them, she said it offered her a chance to “reflect” on her high school career and a civics teacher who was “instrumental” in her choice to pursue a career in public service. Baker shared a story of a time the chief of state to the senate majority leader asked her if she liked to write and speak publicly when she was in college. After answering yes to both questions, she was offered an internship. That “random” interaction with someone she didn’t know, Baker told the ambassadors led to her first job in the Pennsylvania Senate in 1983 after graduating from college. Those experiences are important because they are “opportunities to be positive” and step out of one’s “comfort zone” to talk of oneself positively.
Modeled after TN school
The ambassador program started three years ago, one student said after an administrator and faculty met ambassadors in a district in Tennessee and saw the pride those students had for their school and the skills they were gaining, by interacting with adults and being leaders in their school.
The WAHS ambassadors were chosen following an interview process, that one ambassador said was a “little intimidating.” Later the teens were taught how to properly shake someone’s hand and greet people by a representative from Penn State Worthington.
Additional people skills, such as eye contact and the need to smile and making others feel comfortable were also lessons and necessary qualities to be successful, another ambassador explained to Baker. Those skills though, are not “typical classroom” lessons, that she believes students should be taught.
Another ambassador said a “unique” aspect of the program is that, it is open to every student who wants to learn interpersonal skills and how to speak with others, just by talking with Colleen Edwards the career coordinator who runs the program. Baker responded that, she sees the ambassador program as being similar to a leadership program at another school, as it teaches students leadership skills relative to their lives that will be a resource, for anyone, even if they’re not in office, since it gives the teens a “firm footing for the future.”
Since its inception, more students have become involved and there are now ambassadors in both the primary and intermediate schools that the high school ambassadors mentored.
Open to all grades in the high school, another ambassador said an aspect she likes is that, students with all interests are involved and that made her “excited” as a “broad spectrum” of students are representing their school and gaining opportunities by interacting with others.
Faces of Wallenpaupack
For another ambassador, an “important quality” she learned is time management skills, since assignments are given via email often. Everyday, she sees herself as an ambassador as she represents the qualities she has gained through the program. Baker responded, that showing those skills outside of the district is a “very important skill set.” The student replied that the ambassadors are the “face of Wallenpaupack.”
One ambassador said the first set were “creating a legacy” as they were the first to start the program and have “impacted” their school. Baker suggested they keep a journal as they go through this experience so they can reflect back sometime, because of the lessons they're learning.
One student said the experiences the students are gaining are great because “any experience is a good experience” and so, they are getting prepared for their futures, since there are many opportunities. Such a case occurred when they acted as guides to 8th graders who toured the school, which Baker said provided the younger students with a “comfort level.”
Since becoming an ambassador, another student told Baker how she has spoken in front of the board of education and that has given her the confidence to talk with others better.
Baker replied that it is not always easy “putting yourself out there” but taking risks is necessary, which she realized when she quit a job to run for office. That choice, was the scariest thing she had done, but the reality is that, if she wasn’t “willing to take that risk” she would have regretted it. There are times when one must step forward and succeed or not succeed and that is a part of life she said.
Baker told the ambassadors she was initially curious to learn more about the program, after she was greeted by some of them while visiting the school at another time. Every student she met during that visit “impressed” her as they made her feel welcome and while there are 20 school districts in the 20th senatorial district, no other has a program like the one at WAHS. Having such a program that brings the community to the school and helping the students gain additional skills, has made it a “model” program.
The most important life skill she feels for one in public office, Baker said is the ability to communicate. Her philosophy is that the title of senator, she earned and worked hard for, but she is borrowing it while in office. Her name, “will always be Lisa” as it is “not senator.”
By being connected to the community, there is an understanding of how to serve and what is important to the community. The job is about problem solving and how to help with various issues. If those issues aren’t understood, then Baker said she doesn’t believe she can serve and so the “key is being engaged actively.” Baker congratulated the ambassadors for their “hard work and dedication” as they have made the program “premiere.”
Afterwards, Edwards commended the students as they are the “founders of the program” and have done a “great job.” Next September, more students will be able to apply to become an ambassador. Since the start, more students have shown interest as they see the experiences offered through the program, as ambassadors have been recognized by their community when invited to the state capital by the governor's staff and escorted “high level people” and will greet cancer survivors during the Grater Lake Region Relay for Life Survivors’ Dinner.
The WAHS Ambassador Program is important Edwards said, because “pride and respect” as well as helping others and standing up for things one believes in, are all highlighted since they have a “platform.” It was the students, she stressed that made an idea a reality because they are ambassadors all of the time, not just when wearing their purple blazers.
If a freshman applies to be an ambassador, they will carry that title, Edwards said until they are a senior if they stay in good standing with the school. There is no cap as to the number of ambassadors because, Edwards doesn’t know how she would turn anyone away. The students, she is proud of and that she could not have expressed more because they make the school “great.”
After speaking with the ambassadors, Baker said they are “inspiring” because they are “bright, articulate young people” who are “benefiting from a very unique program.” The skills, she doesn’t know if many students realize how important they are, as they will transcend to the rest of their lives and so, she was “totally impressed and inspired” by the entire meeting.