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This summer, several middle school students from Austin Classical Academy will be heading to Washington D.C. for the six-day Junior National Young Leaders Conference (JR NYLC). Seeing the nation’s monuments, hearing from speakers and participating in projects, the students will talk about what it means to be a leader.

When Alysa Friemel, a middle school reading teacher at Austin Classical Academy, got a letter in the mail about the conference, she saw it as an excellent way to reinforce the school’s values and motivate students.

“The program has an emphasis on American leaders in our history that fits really well with our school’s focus on American civics. Talking about how to be good leaders is also very important. It should really give our students some motivation to do their best at home, school and in the community,” says Ms. Friemel.

Ms. Friemel chose ten students who had shown excellent leadership skills to nominate. They were surprised by the acceptance letter when it arrived. Seventh grader Sofia Rangel was one of those students.

“When I first received the letter, my parents opened it at home and didn’t tell me because they thought it was something I already knew about. A few days later, I went into my parents’ room and started looking through their mail and found one with my name. I was super excited and read every single paper word for word. I ran to tell my dad and he said he knew the whole time. He said that he was very happy for me and that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Sofia.

As part of the program, students will hear from Anthony Robles, a three-time all-American wrestler who was born with one leg, visit Harpers Ferry in West Virginia and work with other students to create an organization that will make a positive change in their school and community. Ms. Friemel has seen this opportunity generate a lot excitement among the students.

“We are a title one school, and these opportunities are typically not available to our students. This opportunity really means a lot to them,” she says.

For seventh-grade student Luvena Garcia, July cannot come soon enough.

“I am excited about this opportunity. I look forward to meeting all the great leaders and learning the skills I need to become successful in life. It means a great deal to be able to go to something like this because no one in my family has had an opportunity like this. My parents have worked really hard to provide me with the things that I have in life and they want me to go far. I think this conference will shape my leadership skills and turn them into something I can use throughout my life,” Luvena said.

The conference is not until July, but the students are already practicing leadership skills by leading a fundraising program. Some events they have planned are bake sales, a day taping the teacher to the wall, a raffle and a waiter night at a local restaurant.

“We have already formed our own leadership club to raise money for the trip. I have put them in charge of it, and I am just there to prompt them. They had to give a speech at one of the parent meetings explaining their goals and what they hope to do with the money,” said Ms. Friemel.

Sixth grader Destiny Lopez is grateful for being nominated and recognized for her hard work.

“I feel honored and I think it will be a great learning experience. I am glad that I was chosen because I work really hard. I think that this could be really fun and I could get a lot out of it,” said Destiny.

The students are still working to meet their fundraising goal. With the help of Ms. Friemel, they have set up a gofundme account.


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