Students learn how to take charge

Spirited leaders

Posted: Wednesday, October 11, 2006


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  Nikiski High School student Tyler Payment (in black shirt) learns trust as his classmates practice teamwork by preventing him from falling to the floor during an exercise in Ted Riddall's leadership class at Nikiski High School. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Nikiski High School student Tyler Payment (in black shirt) learns trust as his classmates practice teamwork by preventing him from falling to the floor during an exercise in Ted Riddall's leadership class at Nikiski High School.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Last year, Nikiski High School teacher Ted Riddall sat in on a student government meeting and was surprised to find that none of the students present had any idea how to run a meeting.

“Looking at the school over the last couple of years, there hasn’t been a lot of school spirit,” Riddall said. “I thought this would be a good time to get some leaders in this school. ... People say, ‘You’re a good leader,’ but what does that mean?”

Riddall drew on his experience teaching a leadership class in Washington before coming to the Kenai Peninsula, and put together a leadership class for Nikiski. The class of 20 students meets two times a week before school to learn the fundamentals of leadership.


Instructor Ted Riddall, at top, coaches students in his leadership class last week as they work on a group exercise emphasizing teamwork. From a tight circle, the Nikiski High School students had to sit down and then stand up as a group.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“It’s a hands-on thing,” Riddall said. “There’s a lot of planning — with all the activities in the school, there’s always something to be planned. There’s managerial skills — are you a good organizer, what does that mean, and how do you get people involved and have some accountability? There’s lots of different parts to the bigger piece of pie.”

As part of the class, students are given various assignments to complete that involve organizing school events. Students had a hand in planning homecoming week events last month, and other events on the schedule include Red Ribbon Week, part of a drug awareness campaign.

“We have different students from every class. We were all involved in separate class activities, and as a whole, we were in charge of making posters, getting the word out, setting up games and prizes,” said Tyler Payment, a Nikiski senior. “That’s a lot different than in the past. Nikiski has always been known as a very spirited place, but in the last couple of years, it’s died off a little. This year, I can’t think of a year where there was more Bulldog spirit.”

Payment said learning how to organize an event was a big part of making homecoming successful this year. He said the class also provides motivation for students to step forward and be a part of the decision-making process.


Christopher Richter leads classmates on a teamwork exercise where students had to get each other across an imaginary field of lava.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“This class gives everybody who wants to be in on it the motivation to go out and make it the best,” Payment said. “When you see a lot of people coming together, making decisions for the school, it really is a lot easier to step up, whereas if it’s just you, you might be afraid you’re the only on thinking that way.”

Following each event, Riddall conducts a review session, where students examine both the things that went well, as well as the things that didn’t live up to expectations, and students are learning how to follow through with their leadership tasks. Students are learning that there is almost as much to do after an event as there is leading up to it — and they still have to get to school by 7 a.m. for leadership class.

“It’s very tough. (The week after homecoming, it) was tough to get up on Tuesday — homecoming is over, do we really have to get up? — but two days a week doesn’t take a huge amount of time. We work really well as a class and accomplish things pretty quickly,” said Nikiski senior Hannah Thompson.

Part of the class deals with supporting people in leadership roles.

“Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. How do you follow those that have an idea and are out in front running with it? We’re not only teaching how to lead, but also how to follow,” Riddall said.

Beyond the resurgence of school spirit at Nikiski, the class is proving to be a good experience for students as they start to think about life after high school.

“I think it will help with relationships out in the world. When you have to go to work, I know it will help with human relations. I know it’s already helped me start looking at colleges,” Thompson said.

“Not only is it a good thing to put on a resume, but because the main focus of this leadership program is managerial skills — how to manage your time, set up appointments, all the important aspects of being a manager — that can be applied anywhere in the world, it doesn’t matter what field of work,” Payment said.

“And human relations, trying to reach out and get everyone involved — most definitely, it’s one of the best things to happen in Nikiski. We really go out there and try to make the school better every day.”

Will Morrow can be reached at

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