Text and Photos
By Leah Sander
AKRON — Tippecanoe Valley Middle School Viking Leadership is meant “to empower kids to step up” as leaders.
TVMS Principal Scott Backus made that comment regarding the program he started. Now in its third year, TVMS Viking Leadership allows eighth graders to learn leadership skills, then pass those along to sixth graders.
Backus formulated it after seeing a need to encourage the growth of such skills at the middle school. He said he “probably stole a lot of the idea from (Tippecanoe Valley High School teacher) Kris Walker.”
Walker runs the Peers program through which high school students also mentor others.
“What we’re trying to do is almost try to preload the capacity for (Viking Leadership) kids to maybe go be student council members or Peers members and do those kind of things with the high school,” said Backus.
Students are asked to join the program if they “were selected to the honor society as seventh graders,” said Backus.
There are about 35 kids in Viking Leadership this year. He said the program helps students “get out of their comfort zone a little bit.”
“I think the first challenge for some of these kids is they’re going to have a group of kids they’re in essence teaching leadership skills to, so they’ve got to kind of get over that fear of talking and leading others and be able to do that,” said Backus.
After students do several training sessions at the beginning of the school year, they switch into the mentoring phase. Over “roughly every other week,” they will learn about a topic one day, then teach the sixth graders about it another day, said Backus.
A recent topic was about bullying, with kids learning about its definition, watching a short video on it, then discussing potential bullying situations and how to remedy them.
Backus comes up with the topics himself “based on circumstances that are applicable to the kids.” He noted the bullying subject fit in well, as the state requires schools to have programming on bullying. TVMS just had a special speaker address it during a convocation.
He said staff will sometimes suggest subject ideas or he’ll get an idea for one while browsing online.
“Our opening meeting we had a couple of weeks ago was simply about courage,” said Backus. “We talked about what courage looks like for a leader at the middle school level … It’s stepping up to support people and help people, and sometimes it’s making the decision that you’ve got to do things for yourself and others that are positive rather than follow the crowd … It’s a new experience for these kids, but it’s me challenging their thinking and just what exactly it is that we need them to be doing.”
Backus noted the program allows the eighth graders “to build a relationship with (younger) kids” as the older kids will be mentoring the same kids the rest of the school year.
He said he hopes the sixth graders then feel comfortable coming to the eighth graders for advice.
“It opens a lot of other avenues for general support, too, that (don’t) necessarily have to go through the counselor, or the principal or the teacher. It can be just a chat between an older kid about experiences they’ve had and how they handled them and helping a kid get through something,” he said.