“I think about leadership almost every day. We talked about setting priorities. Every day I struggle with my priorities but I think about the leadership academy and I figure out what to do.”Samantha Viglione, 17

“I learned that I am a quiet leader. If it comes down to it, I am the person who brings in the positive energy, saying we can get something done. I learned to be more patient toward others.”Keasijaa Daniels, 17

“It’s okay to let go and trust other people. Before the academy I was the kind of person who always wanted to do things on my own.”Anthony Johnson, 17.

These students at the Milton Hershey School in Pennsylvania are recounting their experiences at the Dearden Leadership Academy, which school administrators recently added to the curriculum in hopes it will prepare students to be leaders in their communities.

Three years ago, the Dearden Leadership Academy debuted as a weekend staff-designed initiative and, in its second year, students spent a week at an outdoor camp. But administrators wanted a more comprehensive campus-based program and sought the expertise of the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®) to develop a customized leadership training for the summer of 2012.

Students at Milton Hershey School Prepare to be Leaders
Milton Hershey School students bond during an outdoor experiential activity.

“We looked around and saw that our students are getting a good education, but they need to know how to lead themselves and others,” says Ralph Carfagno, senior director of alumni relations/programs and president of the Dearden Alumni Campus Board, which initiated the idea for leadership training. “CCL spent a lot of time learning what we want to accomplish. This is a marriage of their leadership program and the values of the school. They’ve given us a tremendous leg up.”

Students use adjectives such as “awesome,” “incredible,” and “an amazing experience” to describe the program. “It was a fun time and it was a learning time,” Daniels says. “It prepared me for other things beyond the Milton Hershey School.”

The philanthropic boarding school gives students a free education, a place to live and financial help when they go off to college. It initially was an industrial school for orphans started by the founder of the Hershey Company, North America’s largest chocolate manufacturer, and his wife, Catherine. Today, more than 1,800 students with financial or social needs attend there in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, living in homes supervised by house parents. The school’s philosophy is based on the values and principles of Hershey and William Dearden, a Milton Hershey graduate who became chief executive of the Hershey Company.

The five-day Dearden Leadership Academy featured sessions on understanding leadership, communication and activities incorporating the school’s four sacred values: integrity, mutual respect, commitment to mission and positive spirit. Students met with former Hershey executives and worked with mentors, who were primarily their house parents. This year, 22 students attended the academy, which right now is open only to high school students.

“A lot of young people think that leadership is a positional thing and if they don’t have a title then they don’t have the capacity to make a difference,” says CCL’s Sarah Miller, who helped develop the Hershey School program as part of CCL’s Leadership Beyond Boundaries initiative to make leadership training accessible to youth, nonprofits and other underserved groups worldwide. “It was important that each student embrace who they are and understand that they have the capacity to lead.”

Student Anthony Johnson says he used information he learned during the academy to help a friend figure out his core values. “I learned not to be afraid to do things I’ve never done before,” he says. “It gave me a new way of thinking about how I react in multiple situations.”

Carfagno says school administrators think the Dearden Leadership Academy will make a significant difference in the students’ lives.

“It’s an ambitious effort,” he says. “We’re making great strides.”

It prepared me for other things beyond the Milton Hershey School.

– Keasijaa Daniels, student

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