Students attend leadership awards

(Left to Right) Deanne Shulman of the Rotary Club, Miliani Barraza, Ella Mauer, Jacob Abraugh and Jessica McCrary RYLA counselor. Photo by Catherine Stachowiak

Story by Catherine Stachowiak

Students from Kern Valley High School attended the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA). The four students attending the three-day event in Ojai were Jacob Abraugh, Miliani Barraza, Ella Mauer and Donovin Valenzuela.

Deanne Shulman, Youth Services Coordinator for the Rotary Club of Kern River Valley, said, “The Rotary Club has been sponsoring high school students to go to RYLA for many years. So we were real excited to sponsor the four students who went this year.”  Shulman said the RYLA event is geared toward grades 10 and 11. 

The program was no cost to the families of participants.  Students applied to go to RYLA in November. The Rotary selection panel chose the students attending based on their potential for leadership. “We firmly believe in the future leadership of these students,” Shulman said. 

Enie Fryer Fairbanks, and Jessica McCrary were both chaperones and counselors who accompanied the teens at the RYLA event. “The kids far exceeded what I was prepared for.  It was awesome and inspiring just seeing the way that they were processing the information during the days, and the courses that they were taking. The way that they were utilizing those lessons they were learning and the activities that they were given,” McCrary said. “It was inspiring. It offered a lot of hope for the future.”

The Rotary took the teens away from their comfort zone for four days, with 250 other teens, putting them into challenging situations to learn about leadership, goal setting, diversity, and what characters define them as a leader, with each course about 2 hours long, according to McCrary.  Courses included lectures and activities. 

The teens built connections and grew in a judgment free zone.  The first gathering the teens went to, included a speech about ripping up your cool card, allowing everyone a safe space.  Mauer said, that the speech about “ripping up the cool-card” was her favorite. 

Students split into color groups participating in a talent show. Knowing she didn’t have her cool card helped Mauer feel good about participating in things she otherwise may have hesitated in doing. 

About the courses the students took on public speaking and goal building, Mauer said, “Almost all of them had an aspect of us working as a team and a group, and not only getting to know each other but also trusting each other and working with each other sharing ideas and collaborating. I think all of them did really well at incorporating that into a larger picture.” 

Abraugh said his favorite speech at the event was about courage, attitude, and goals. He participated in an activity where the group had to lead another person who was blindfolded, through a minefield, though they couldn’t touch the person.  The next time they could lead, with sound, but not using words.   

Students engaged in physical activities to learn teamwork according to Miliani.  “There was a ropes course, and we got to walk across, almost like we were tightrope walking. We were attached to harnesses and we got to walk across and it started raining when my team was going,” said Miliani. “But it also created an effort to where we had to start working together more.  I feel that there was a lot of team building. Also it taught us how to work on communicating and building connections.” 

Participants considered their passions and career and life goals.  Students going to the event enjoyed RYLA and wished they could go again. 

The Interact club is a mirror of the Rotary, at the high school level, teaching students about nonprofits. These students were considering joining Interact.  Both Abraugh and Mauer said they wanted to preside over the club the following year.

RYLA’s Director Darin Arrasmith with Ella Mayer who received the Most Outspoken award from RYLA. Photo Courtesy of Jessica McCrary