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Making leaders out of students

By Dan Magazu

Sentinel and Enterprise

Posted: 01/08/2009 06:04:24 AM EST

LEOMINSTER -- What started as an English project for Leominster High School senior Cassie Cooley has turned into a daylong leadership workshop for 70 students later this month. 

"We were asked to find a passion and go out in the community and see what we could do to help our passion," Cooley said Wednesday during an interview at her home. 

"Leadership has become something I'm really interested in." 

So Cooley organized a workshop that would focus on the skills students need to be stronger leaders. 

"It's basically for anyone interested in becoming a more affective leader," Cooley said.

The result of Cooley's effort is the Teen Reach Leadership Workshop, which will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Four Points by Sheraton.

To find a speaker for the workshop, Cooley contacted the Franklin Covey Co., which helps provide management training and assessment services. The company connected Cooley with Gary McGuey, a former educator and athletic director, who created the first curriculum related to the book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens" by Sean Covey. 

"We initially thought we couldn't get (McGuey) because he was scheduled to be at the White House in January doing training for the inauguration," said Cooley's mother Fran, who is president of the Leominster PTO. "But in the end, the PR people decided to go in a different direction and he became available. So we have sort of been battling with the White House for the speaker and we won." 

Students who attend the workshop will receive a copy of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens" and a corresponding workbook.

"The workshop will be very youth focused and interactive," Cassie Cooley said. "There will be roundtable discussions and other activities."

The workshop is expected to help students gain greater control of their lives, increase self-confidence, make smarter decisions, recognize and prioritize goals, and find balance among school, work and friends.

The entire workshop has been organized by Cooley, with help from the United Way Youth Venture Program, which is a partnership between the United Way of North Central Massachusetts, Mount Wachusett Community College, and Ashoka's Youth Venture.

"Cassie's project is such a wonderful example of what the United Way stands for," said Gina Wironen, a curriculum facilitator and the district coordinator for the United Way Youth Venture program. "She has taken her interest in leadership, and used it to organize an event that will help other students become stronger leaders." 

Cooley has also received help from a few members of the Leominster High School Renaissance Club, which is a group of students who organize assemblies and raise money for scholarships. Cooley is president of the club. 

"The whole effort has really grown since I started," Cooley said.

Cooley has already applied for and received a $1,000 scholarship from the North Central Massachusetts Youth Collaborative to help pay for the workshop.

She will make a presentation before a panel involved with the United Way Youth Venture Program on Thursday in hopes of receiving an additional $1,000.

The Youth Venture program is helping Cooley and other members of the Renaissance Club make the workshop an annual event. 

Cooley, who plans on studying computer science at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst next year, has spent countless hours coordinating the workshop. 

"It's taken quite a while," she said. "Putting the scholarship applications together took a really long time. The whole process has helped me get better at public speaking."

The workshop costs $25 for students who sign up by Jan. 9. The price is $30 for those who sign up later. Students will receive lunch and get to keep the two books that will be used during the workshop. 

"Many leadership workshops cost a few hundred dollars, so it's really a good price," Cooley said. "The $25 just covers the cost of the two books and part of the lunch." 

The event is open to any high school students in the surrounding communities. About 35 students have already signed up for the conference. A limit of 70 students will be accepted. 

For more information, contact Cassie Cooley at (978) 840-6820 or cascool277@inbox.com.