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Wallace-Dothan Hosts High School Leadership Summit


Dothan, Ala. – Over 200 area high school student leaders recently met at Wallace Community College-Dothan (WCCD) for the inaugural High School Leadership Summit to determine, among other things, what kind of leaders they are and how to mature their leadership skills as leaders in life and as servant-leaders. The event was sponsored by the WCCD Student Government Association (SGA).

Their leadership journey began with a message from Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz. Schmitz, who has a passion for child advocacy, told the students that they can make a difference in the world. His own success story pivoted with the help of an astute fifth grade teacher who cared enough to realize he needed help reading. “She told me that I could be anything in life if I learned to read,” he said. It was a life changer for Schmitz, who eventually became a successful entrepreneur before becoming Mayor of Dothan in 2009.

Most of the students already had some leadership experience in high school. The interactive portion of the summit began with an Animal Personality Profile, a simple 5-minute personality test that revealed their personality type: Lion, Otter, Beaver, or Golden Retriever.

“As a leader, you need to know your strengths and weaknesses,” said Ryan Spry, WCCD director, student and campus services. “For example, lions are leaders who are decisive, but not watchers or listeners. Otters are excitable and encouraging. They are often the networkers and motivators on a team. Golden Retrievers are loyal and have great capacity for empathy and like to please. Beavers go by the book and love rules, consistency, and details.”

After a team exercise in which like-minded leaders attempted to follow a set of instructions, it was clear that a great team needs different personality types. “Teams don’t typically have a lot of like-minded members,” said Spry. “You need to know your leadership type so that you know how your personality meshes with others on your team.” The differences in personality became obvious when the “Beavers” were the only group to sit in an orderly row; the rest of the students huddled in random groups.

Spry told the group that being a leader means encouraging those who follow you, and that mentorship and servant-leadership is a part of making a difference in your team’s success.

Guest speaker Janice Pitchford, president of FinishWell, LLC, and clinical skills educator at ACOM (Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine) spoke about lessons in leadership and life that she learned from her 14-year-old daughter, Dawn, who was diagnosed with leukemia at age 13. “I learned from Dawn that you can be a leader at any age,” she said. Ms. Pitchford advised the students to “learn how to smile and laugh at yourselves, which will make you a better leader.” The day her daughter began losing her hair from her cancer therapy, her reaction was “We knew this was coming. All my life I wanted to be a War Eagle, and now I’ll have to be a Bald Eagle.” A sense of humor can get you through a lot.

Dawn taught her family to never give up. She never missed an assignment and finished 8th grade with straight A’s. She also demonstrated how to think of others first and how to be a servant-leader. “After weeks in the hospital, she asked for a wheelchair so that she could take a trip to the gift shop,” said Ms. Pitchford. “She purchased a pair of bedroom shoes for a three-year-old boy in oncology who did not have them.” Dawn made multiple trips to help other children in similar circumstances. Pitchford encouraged the student to be intentional in their leadership. “It is about influencing others for good. You will create a significant life.”

Stephen Black, president and founder of IMPACT America, was the keynote speaker for the inaugural summit. IMPACT America has several opportunities for service leadership. WCCD students participate in SaveFirst and FocusFirst. SaveFirst helps low income citizens with free income tax preparation. FocusFirst volunteers conduct vision screenings at Head Starts, daycare centers, Pre-K programs, and health fairs. Approximately 10% of children fail their screening and receive free or subsidized follow-up care.


A loud voice for servant-leadership, Mr. Black said that society can see cultures and traditions as something that “has always been that way” and cannot change. “Culture can be changed. This is one of the ways our country is exceptional,” he said. “You have an opportunity to grow into an ethical leader, an adult who feels they have a role in impacting the world,” he said. Black explained the disconnect between those who have an education and those that don’t, and how it affects poverty, prenatal care, and other indicators of health and success in life. “Don’t fall for sound bites. It’s not enough to form an opinion. Don’t fall for the status quo,” Black said.

Black encouraged the students to deliberately decide that lack of opportunity is not OK. “Always ask yourself ‘What is my role to change the status quo? What can I do?’” An awful lot. “You have the potential to change the culture of a story.”

WCCD plans to hold the event annually for area high school students. “We are so grateful for the overwhelming support and participation we received in hosting this inaugural high school leadership summit,” said Spry. “We truly hope those in attendance left energized to make a difference in their communities by keeping a servant-leadership focus and mentality.”

The students concurred that the event was worthwhile attending. “It was fun! I found out that I’m a Golden Retriever and empathy is one of my characteristics,” said Mary Grace Brannon, a junior at Rehobeth High School. “What I learned was that I shouldn’t be discouraged about things I can’t do. Ms. Pitchford’s story about her daughter really spoke to me. As a leader, I need to make sure that everyone on my team has what they need to be productive and not worry about things that I can’t change.”

Students from Abbeville Christian School, Abbeville High School, Ariton High School, Carroll High School, Cottonwood High School, Dale County High School, Dale County Youth Leadership Program, Daleville High School, Emmanuel Christian School, Geneva County High School, Houston County High School, Northside Methodist Academy, Rehobeth High School, Ridgecrest Christian School, Samson High School, Slocomb High School, and Wallace Community College SGA students attended. 

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