After being presented with a very special opportunity, 11-year-old Alexa DaRosa recently trekked across the country to Washington D.C. by herself to attend the Junior National Young Leaders Conference (JrNYLC).
The JrNYLC is put on by The Congressional Youth Leadership Council (CYLC), an organization that offers “mature, high-achieving middle school students the opportunity to learn about leadership by studying the leaders of the past and by focusing on social advocacy to make a positive impact in their homes and communities,” according to its website.
Alexa’s mom, Susana, recalled that the day of the school open house a letter arrived at their home in a “beautiful envelope with the white house seal.” The DaRosas knew it was something special. It contained two letters, one for Alexa and one addressed to her parents announcing the nomination.
“We were so proud she got nominated,” Mrs. DaRosa said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her to go.”
In part, the letter stated that the conference was a chance for Alexa to discover the important role of leadership throughout history, and also to further develop qualities within herself at school, in her community, and her future.
The Sierra View Elementary School sixth grader was nominated to attend the conference last school year by her fifth grade teacher Stacy Graham who described Alexa as self-motivated and encouraging to other students. She added that the JrNYLC sends literature to teachers and requests nominations of students who display leadership qualities. The nominations are then separated and individuals are invited to attend the Washington D.C. leadership conference.
“I nominated Alexa because she displays qualities that will enhance her educational opportunities,” Graham said. “Alexa is a hard working young lady. She understands the importance of setting goals for herself and then striving to obtain them. Alexa is a student who readily embraces working with others. She will take the lead in a group making sure that everyone completes the tasks they are required to complete. She will also take the role in a group where she isn’t in charge, but knows that she plays a role in helping complete the task… It was an honor to nominate her and I look forward to seeing all the outstanding accomplishments she will accomplish in her future.”
“I was really shocked. I did not expect it. I was really happy that my teacher nominated me,” Alexa said.
Her days at the conference were very structured – students were up at 6 a.m. and were to bed by 10:30 p.m. She said she was tired by the end of the week when she got back home.
While she had several educational outings in the nation’s capital, called Field Study Experiences, Alexa said that most of the time she and the other students worked in Leadership Focus Groups (LFGs) where they did various activities that required some serious mental exercise. She spent three to four hours, or more, each day in LFGs composed of different sessions. She also participated in shorter LFG sessions on her travel days. Some of the LFGs included writing daily about what she did, her capital excursions, what she learned, and if she would visit again.
The JrNYLC curriculum focuses on notable leaders who helped shape the nation. The CYLC website states that students study different historical time periods and leadership characteristics, which helps them gain a better understanding of what it takes to be an effective leader.
Tying in with that, the students wrote in journals about fictional and real leaders in history who exhibited “good” and “bad” qualities, then the students answered questions about the leaders and wrote about whether they would have followed the leader and why. Alexa said that some leader scenarios presented both good and bad traits together.
“I learned lots of leadership skills and how to use them at home,” she said about her experience.
She reported that the skills included examining specific leadership traits and how to deal with people effectively. The students studied six core leadership traits: character, communication, goal setting, respect, problem solving and teamwork.
“Goal-setting and teamwork really helped me,” Alexa said. “If you don’t set goals in life, you can’t expect it to happen. You have to work hard and try.”
She also reported that other LFGs included different discussion topics. In one LFG, her group had an assignment to make a poster that highlighted an anti-bullying campaign. For the project, they also had to come up with a name, logo, and mission statement.
Mrs. DaRosa added that she and her husband weren’t allowed to attend the conference with their daughter because it was an opportunity for the students to learn to be independent while they received leadership training. However, Mrs. DaRosa noted that they were able to keep track of their daughter because they received e-mails and a corresponding slideshow of photos everyday from the conference organizers, updating them on the activities that Alexa did that day.
The students stayed in dorms at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland where Alexa had two roommates from Pennsylvania and one from New Jersey. She reported that she was teamed up with different groups for the LFGs so she met different people. She also made friends from Wyoming, Oregon, and Anaheim.
“It was a great experience and I loved making new friends,” she said.