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SPRING 2001
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Mount Holyoke College


BY JANET TOBIN
PHOTOS BY BEN BARNHART

 
  High school students Lisa Hunter (left) and Aisha Muharrar at Take The Lead. Muharrar recently wrote a story about the prpogram for Teen People.

Bell bottoms, tie-dyed clothing, and lava lamps aren’t the only vestiges of the 1960s being embraced by teens these days. Social activism--a hunger to change the world--seems to be back in style, at least among thirty-two young women who participated in the College’s new Take the Lead program.

Faculty and administrators at the College developed Take the Lead to help high school women build leadership skills and become effective agents of change. As part of the program’s application, teens were asked to identify an issue of concern to them. In response, they named major societal problems such as suicide, police brutality, homelessness, and AIDS.

These and other issues--gun violence and substance abuse among them--formed the basis of action projects, for which the teens developed implementation plans during a four-day symposium at Mount Holyoke in October. They have spent the past six months working on their projects--focusing on everything from the desegregation of the New Orleans school system to combating homophobia in a Connecticut high school. Lindsay Mecca has already completed her project, a play titled The Nearly Departed that she wrote to “create awareness of the injustices of capital punishment.”

Community leaders, teachers, and guidance counselors from around the country nominated more than 650 outstanding high school sophomores for Take the Lead, and the College received more than 300 applications to the program. A College committee selected participants on the basis of leadership potential, as demonstrated by their level of academic success and cocurricular involvement, insight, and motivation.

Participants came to Mount Holyoke from as far away as Hawaii. While on campus, they stayed in residence halls with student mentors; participated in workshops on topics such as identity and talking across difference led by administrators and alumnae; and received assistance with their action projects.

"For Take the Lead, I was paired with Joanna Hunter. By helping her, I learned more about myself and the Mount Holyoke community. Not only did I meet outstanding high school girls, but phenomenal Mount Holyoke women. I left the program with newfound hope and courage and a network of women to help me achieve my goals."
Katherine Axt '01, Take the Lead mentor
Joanna Hunter, high school student
"I came to Mount Holyoke because I want to make an impact on the world. I never realized how much the weekend would affect me. With the help of the mentors, the speakers, and the other girls, I was able to articulate my goal and my project. I want to design a Web site to help high school students calm down concerning the college application process."
 

Also an integral part of Take the Lead were Emmy Award-winning news anchor Alexandra Gromko ’91; author and teacher Lydia Okutoro ’98; and public health researcher and champion in-line skater Karin Travers ’86, who participated in workshops and met with students. “The best part of Take the Lead was hearing from the alumnae and being motivated by their speeches,” noted high schooler Kathryn Wilson. “I now have strong women to look up to.”

Participants also worked with Mount Holyoke students. Serving as mentors were thirty-two current students, who were trained by the College’s Harriet L. and Paul M. Weissman Center for Leadership. Each high schooler and her mentor worked one-on-one during the symposium, and the pairs will stay in touch for the duration of the action project.

The capstone of the Take the Lead program was the “graduation ceremony,” for which six of the teens were chosen to deliver speeches about their action projects.The standing ovations that followed reflected the sense of pride participants felt in the accomplishments of the weekend.

One hallmark of the sixties was conspicuously absent during Take the Lead--a generation gap. Says Patricia VandenBerg, Take the Lead director, “ All of us were inspired by being together--a critical mass of dynamite women. The program was an encapsulation of what Mount Holyoke does best, educating bright, spirited women to be socially conscious leaders. The intergenerational nature of Take the Lead added to the richness of the experience.”

The second annual Take the Lead program is scheduled for October 11 through 14, 2001. Learn more about the program at www.mtholyoke.edu/go/takethelead.