By Madelynn Coldiron
It was a pretty even exchange: Logan County’s largest employer learned a few things about the students who are its future work force and their school, and those students took to the floor of a massive factory to see what the real world requires of them.
The visit to Logan Aluminum in February was one of the first community outreach presentations made by the Russellville High School Ambassadors, a group of 32 sixth- through 12th-graders who are in the business of serving their school. In doing so, they also serve the community and develop their own skills and maturity.
PHOTO: Members of Russellville High School’s Ambassadors brief officials with Logan Aluminum on their organization and the programs offered by their high school. Among those on hand was Logan Aluminum President Randy Schumaker, who also addressed the group.
“It’s helped get me more involved with the community, not just with the community service we do, but with group leaders who also pass down their leadership qualities to us, from meeting with higher ranking people in business and such,” said freshman Ambassador Chris Collier.
Just before they toured the aluminum plant, the Ambassadors led a conference room PowerPoint presentation about their school and their work for several of the company’s top executives, who shared with them the job requirements in modern manufacturing.
Logan Aluminum participates in career days at local high schools, said human resources development specialist Mark Hunter, but “this is a unique experience for us.”
Besides showing the officials what the students are doing in high school, it allowed the company to show the students “there are good futures in manufacturing,” he said.
For freshman Ambassador Johnea Pendleton, presentations like this one help develop her communication and speaking skills. “I hope to be a lawyer when I grow up, so public speaking helps a lot with that,” she said.
The group was formed last year and spent much of the time working on its framework and helping students develop some basic skills, said Assistant Principal Brandon Blake, who sponsors the Ambassadors.
“We’re just now starting to get out in the community. Now they know what they’re supposed to do,” he said.
Students are selected for the group by a committee that includes school personnel and a community representative.
“It’s not like an honor society,” Blake explained. “I wanted it to be representative of our school,” so the student cross-section has a variety of backgrounds, interests and talents.
“It’s given a lot of the kids who wouldn’t otherwise normally be involved in something an avenue to be involved and be a part of something. It does a lot to help build their confidence and their self-esteem,” said Principal Kim McDaniel, whose daughter is in the group.
The format of the Ambassadors also was influenced by similar groups at Western Kentucky University and the local chamber of commerce, as well as Blake’s own research into other groups elsewhere.
The work of the Ambassadors is both external, with a focus on community relations, and internal, with an eye toward improving school culture.
“I think it’s done a lot to help our kids individually in addition to what it’s done holistically for the school,” McDaniel said.
“Whenever people view us outside of the school they will see we are the face of the school,” said sophomore Ambassador Derrick Porter. Within the school, he said, they are role models.
They also act as liaisons between students and the administration, Collier added.
But bridging that external relationship between the school and community also is one of the goals of the Ambassadors, Blake said, “because you never know what you’re going to need from the community.”
The students have facilitated at ball games, parent nights and other events and are mentors to new students, both showing them around the school and showing them the ropes. More presentations are planned similar to the one the group gave at Logan Aluminum, Blake said. They also will be sharing with other students and faculty what they learned from the Logan Aluminum officials.
“The goal is to get them out there in the community,” he said. “Every time they’re doing something they’re promoting the school.”
Blake said he tries to promote leadership development and interpersonal social skills in the group. There may be academic growth, he said, “But the personal growth of the students is tremendous.”
“It kind of shows how much of a leader our students can be when they get into this program. It gives us a sense of responsibility,” said senior Ambassador Anthony Tisdale.
Patience is a useful trait in a school board member and James Milam’s patience – and persistence – is finally paying off.
Milam, chairman of the Russellville Independent school board, broached the concept for the high school’s Ambassador program many years ago – through several superintendents during his 23 years on the board. Current Superintendent Leon Smith took him up on the idea.
“We’ve gotten compliments on their behavior everywhere they’ve gone,” Milam said. “And it helps the school, and we like anything that helps the school. But it’s also the fact that they learned how to work with other kids and it’s not in an academic situation. It’s just learning how to do things right when they get out in whatever they’re doing. If they’re a plumber or a professor, this is going to help them.”
Milam also likes that students in the “middle group” and those whose skills can be further developed are being chosen as Ambassadors, not necessarily the overachievers or underachievers.
The group’s launch with board support also marked a first, Milam said: it was the only time someone asked the board for money – $2,000 – and got more than requested: $2,500.
“The board is fully supportive of this program and is proud of it,” he said.