Learning to Lead

Learning to Lead – With Adventure

Leadership is a concept talked about frequently in middle and high schools as well as in colleges and universities. Too often, those discussions end with leadership theory and conversations about their application; falling short in actual hands-on opportunities that empower students to explore and develop their leadership potential.

This Fall, I had the pleasure of interacting with some high school students, and their teacher, who are doing things a bit differently when it comes to preparing future leaders. Back in October, students from North Haven High School and their teacher Dave Fazzuoli, (a great friend, EMPOWER team member, and fellow Springfield College graduate), volunteered their time to help facilitate team building activities during the 2018 Rally for Bully Free Communities held at EMPOWER. As a token of our appreciation, those students were invited to come out and zip line this past weekend – an adventurous “thank you” for a job well done back in October. My interactions with the North Haven High School students were nothing short of inspiring! It was evident that these students had a tremendous ability to lead after watching them effectively facilitate team building activities during the Rally in October, then demonstrate a willingness to challenge their comfort zones while supporting each other during our zip lining adventure. What makes these students so different; why are they so prepared to lead themselves and others so effectively?

The Power of Project Adventure

In 1980, Ed Manjuck, a Physical Education (PE) Instructor at North Haven High School (NHHS), developed a PE Elective called Project Adventure. The course was based on the principals and curriculum developed by Project Adventure, Inc (founded in 1971 by Karl Rohnke). Mr. Manjuck believed in the power of adventure education for his students; recognizing the potential for skill development that will be beneficial for his students during their time at NHHS and beyond. Dave, NHHS Class of 1999, was both a student (1995/1996 school year) and facilitator (1996-1999) of Mr. Manjuck’s Project Adventure Course. In a recent conversation with Dave, he stated that his experiences with Mr. Manjuck steered him into pursuing a career in Physical Education. After graduating from Springfield College in 2003, Dave was hired by North Haven Schools and spent two years at Ridge Road Elementary School. In 2006, Dave moved over to the High School and worked alongside Mr. Manjuck as a Project Adventure instructor.

Mr. Fazz, as his students like to call him, currently leads the Project Adventure course at NHHS. Led by Dave, and a group of Junior and Senior “Facilitators”, the Project Adventure (PA) course currently includes relationship development ice-breaker activities, trust building initiatives, group problem solving challenges, low-ropes team building initiatives, and high-ropes climbing elements. The sophomore students participate in these adventure activities with the objective of learning “soft-skills” (i.e. leadership, team work, problem solving, trust and relationship development, responsible risk-taking, and more) essential to success in the PA course, and, more importantly, in life!

While the sophomore students surely benefit from their participation in the adventure activities, there is also tremendous value for the PA Facilitators who work alongside Dave to deliver the curriculum. Junior and Senior “PA Graduates” apply to become a facilitator; Dave then works diligently to train and prepare those students to facilitate ground-based/low-ropes adventures AND lead high-ropes climbing adventures – including course set-up and breakdown, basic course maintenance, safety gear management, and belaying the climbing elements. During each PA class, the Facilitators take part in true “leadership development field experiences” – working alongside Mr. Fazz to deliver an intentional adventure curriculum while ensuring the physical and social/emotional safety of the sophomore student participants.

Why have the PA Facilitators developed into such great leaders? The answer is actually quite simple; (1) they have a desire to do so – evident by their initiative to apply for the Facilitator position and their efforts to set-up, lead, and breakdown each lesson, (2) they have an adult (Mr. Fazz) who trains, coaches, and supports them each day, and (3) they have consistent “hands-on” opportunities to put leadership theory into practice through adventure.

Kudos to Ed Manjuck for developing North Haven High School’s Project Adventure Course, to Dave Fazzuoli and North Haven High School for providing your students with such an awesome opportunity; and to the student-facilitators who have demonstrated the desire and initiative to take advantage of those leadership opportunities! The benefits of your program, while hard to measure in test scores or grade point averages, must never be undervalued. The opportunities for students to learn about leadership in “real-world” applications will lead to skill development that will endure beyond a student’s time at North Haven High School – benefiting them in college, professional career, and in every aspect of their lives.