Myrtle Beach High’s leadership class reaches new heights

In harness and helmet, Principal Nona Kerr stood balanced on a cable strung between two 30-foot-tall poles last week, steadying herself with guide ropes and stepping deliberately from one side to the other of Pirate’s Crossing, part of the ropes course located on the Myrtle Beach High School campus.

On the ground, her belayer, senior Dakota Lloyd, held fast to the safety rope as Kerr wobbled and dipped, before making an amazing recovery on her way to the finish. As Lloyd slowly released his hold on the rope, a victorious Kerr twirled her way back down to earth.

“You don’t realize how high it is,” said Kerr of her first turn on the course. “Talk about trust – it takes some trust to be up there.”

Trust is just one of many qualities being developed in the school’s new Leadership Development class, which teaches students through various exercises performed around the ropes course. The class is open to all four grades and is designed to follow the Covey Leadership Initiative, based on Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” which has been followed in the Myrtle Beach cluster schools for the past two years.

The class is taught by Jane Millen, who held a similar class a few years ago at Myrtle Beach Middle School. She came out of retirement to bring those lessons back to high school students – many of whom she taught previously – and is working from “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens,” written by Sean Covey, Stephen Covey’s son.

Millen said students sign up for the course, which is held in two 90-minute blocks. Currently, she has 11 students in each, and she said class size will be capped next semester at 15.

The ropes course is 26 years old, and students begin tackling the lower areas of the course to get to know each other and learn problem-solving, Millen said. The higher elements include Pirate’s Crossing, where students work their way from point A to point B, as well as the 25-foot-tall Pamper Pole. Students climb and balance on top of the Pamper Pole before taking a real leap of faith to either swat a suspended ball or to grab onto a trapeze bar before they can be safely lowered to the ground by their classmates.

“It’s all about self-confidence, teambuilding and synergizing,” Millen said. “The goal is to develop and lead students in the right direction.”

The Chicora Rotary Club donated funds for the original ropes course, and Millen said the club continues to give donations, which go toward equipment, supplies and campouts at Playcard Environmental Education Center. The latest donation was for $1,000, and Rotary member Jeff Mense said it is one way the club supports the community.

“[The class] is a successful way that students are learning leadership and teambuilding within the educational environment,” Mense said. “We’re excited that the program is being elevated with the implementation of the Covey model.”

Senior Tyler Berkey said he signed up for the course because he had taken it in middle school. He said it was a great move to have it at the high school, although students unfamiliar with the concept didn’t know what to make of the Leadership Development class at first.

“They thought it would be things like speeches and not hands-on, but I feel sure next year, this will fill up pretty fast.”

Junior Spencer Gray, also a ropes course veteran, said they are learning a lot by using the seven habits, especially about how to be prepared and think of different options.

“You definitely have to be ready in here,” Gray said, “but one of the best things [about the class] is the way we interact with each other. We work together as a team because of the relationships we’ve built through the habits.”

Kerr said she set up the course because she realized leadership is part of everyday life, but it isn’t really taught. She said it can, however, be enhanced through the course exercises, and she is already seeing successful results.

“These students talk the talk and use these skills to cope and work through problems,” Kerr said. “What greater way is there to show what it means to follow, to trust and to empower them?”