Young leaders emerge from among us
We need leaders who are positive role models. We need leaders whose actions inspire others to engage, to take risks, to be their best. These leaders listen and respond. They are respectful, encouraging, courteous, thoughtful, kind and responsible. They push themselves and they try hard. They are good citizens and good people. They see what needs to be done and they do it. They make good decisions and learn from mistakes.
I am pleased to say that we have some wonderful local leaders who demonstrate the best qualities of good role models. Those leaders are our Heights High students.
Each summer I have the privilege of directing the Heights Summer Music Camp, the Reaching Heights project that brings together 85 to 90 elementary and middle school instrumental music students for a week of intense immersion in music making. It is always an inspiring week as young people discover the rewards of sustained effort supported by expert instruction and cool role models.
They perform a concert after just 11 rehearsals that is breathtaking. As one proud parent expressed it to me after attending the concert, “I simply could not imagine this quality of performance when you told me they would sound great.”
Campers also stretch themselves in many ways as they engage with music theory, make new friends, work with professional musicians, perform in chamber groups and try out new musical options: jazz, choir, percussion and ukulele. Through this process they discover their own capacity to grow, to try something new and uncomfortable, and embrace a new dedication to the practices of good musicians. And they become part of a community. It is wonderful.
The camp staff includes 20 Heights High music students who serve as role models, coaches and teachers. They play side by side in orchestra rehearsals so campers can hear the sound quality they are striving for. They provide the personal touch as campers grapple with mastering techniques or notes or music theory. They bring amazing energy and the enthusiasm of youth to the staff. They keep camp vibrant.
It was the high school staff who dressed in amazing costumes on Star Wars day and made it cool to be creative and playful. They helped set the tone for the week. They were key participants in building a community that was serious and fun at the same time.
It was the high school staff who got to camp first each day to welcome campers as they arrived. It was the high school staff who made sure no camper was alone or isolated during lunch or free time. It was the high school staff who made sure that the music was copied, the equipment ready, the conflicts resolved and the stage set. It was the high school staff who rethought their teaching each day to make sure it was responsive to each of their campers.
What I liked best was how they treated each other. We are living in an era where bullying, racism, exclusion, discrimination, fear and division seem to be having a resurgence of acceptability. These young people were the opposite. The warmth and care that they exhibited toward each other was contagious and inspiring. It did not go unnoticed by the campers or the adult staff who were lucky enough to spend the week with them.
I am grateful to camp music director Daniel Heim for making sure that music camp is a leadership development opportunity for high school staff. It has enhanced the camp in so many ways. I encourage other community projects to find ways to engage our high school students. Everyone wins.
The week I spend each summer with Heights High students provides concrete evidence of the benefit and payoff of our community’s investment in our youth. We need to keep investing in their development—in school and in the community.
We have good reasons to have hope for the future. While the adult world seems to be mired in discontent, mistrust, anger and a loss of civility, our young people are showing what real leadership in a civil society and caring community looks like. We think of our young people as the leaders of tomorrow, but many of them have already stepped up!
Susie Kaeser is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights and former director of Reaching Heights. She serves on the national board of Parents for Public Schools.