December 8, 2021

Learning good habits

Program encourages students to become leaders

S.N. Briere/staff reporter

Kids from McGraw Central and DeRuyter Central school districts play a game during a Youth Leadership program activity Wednesday. The program is meant to foster skills in students in various school districts, who will then use those skills as leaders.

Ethan Westbrook placed his right hand on the climbing hold and then placed his left foot on the next hold of the climbing wall at the Cortland YMCA.

“It was fun until I got to the transition bit, then I had to use my arms a lot more and I don’t have the upper body strength,” the 15-year-old said.

Westbrook, a 10th grader at Seven Valley New Tech Academy in Cortland, was one of about two dozen students from a number of school districts taking part Wednesday in the Cortland County Youth Leadership program.

Ethan Westbrook, a 10th grader at Seven Valleys New Tech Academy, climbs the rock wall at the Cortland YMCA Wednesday.

The program, which started in the 2004-05 school year, meets monthly and students learn skills they can use to become better leaders, said Joe Cortese, a volunteer with the program. This month was healthy habits — financially, mentally and physically.

The days usually begins with a forum or presentation on the skills they’ll learn and then the students follow up with activities, Cortese said.

“By and large, they learn that this is not only fun, but I can do this,” he said.

Westbrook loved the cooking portion of the day, having learned not only about the tools in the kitchen and how to use them, but what makes a healthy and tasty meal.

“Cooking from scratch is better and tastes better than using preservatives,” Westbrook said.

Collin Thompson, 15, a 10th-grader from McGraw Central School District, learned how to use a vegetable peeler for the first time — using the tool backward the first time round.

Devon Hewlett, an 11th-grader at Cortland Alternative, said he doesn’t plan on ever vaping after learning about how bad the habit can be from county health officials.

The healthy habits day also touched on how to save money and why good financial health is important, how stress plays a role in a person’s well-being and ways to relieve stress, including using pressure points.

“Mental and physical health means a lot if you’re going to be a leader,” said Jaiden Cortez, 15, a 10th-grader from McGraw.

The program goes from October to April and next month focuses on communication, with the students taking a trip to a nursing home to speak to senior citizens, Cortese said.

“Being able to talk in front of people is important,” Thompson said.

Westbrook said communication is essential for a leader spearheading a project.

“A good leader is suppose to a be a part of the project, not just giving orders,” he said.

And leaders should be open-minded, said Joyce Lin, 15, a McGraw 10th-grader. “You want to listen to everyone to get their ideas.”