Middle School Students Embark on an Extreme Leadership Adventure

June 2011

To “ricochet” means to move around with a lot of energy and be unpredictable — much the same way that middle school students function. They bounce from one thing to the next, trying on different roles as they find their place in the world.

Ricochet is an adventure-based leadership development curriculum, designed specifically for middle school students, and developed by Iowa State University Extension youth specialists. The program helps youth prepare to accept the leadership opportunities that come their way.

Since 2009, more than 150 Clinton County students have participated in Ricochet. Mary Beth Schaible, school counselor at Calamus Wheatland School, recognizes the program as one of very few designed specifically for middle school students.

“Our school doesn’t have a lot of opportunities for middle school and junior high kids,” Schaible noted. “This is one that they have really embraced and taken off with. They are at an age that typically doesn’t have a lot of positive socialization skills. It is one way they can learn how to be in a group and work with other people that they may not normally work with. It’s been wonderful.”

Ricochet works to engage those who demonstrate natural leadership skills in their school or community. It can also be an opportunity for students that are struggling to find where they fit in.

As a sixth-grader, I moved here and I was very unsure of myself. Ricochet has changed me to be a person that doesn’t stand in the corner all by herself anymore. Ricochet to me is … not being afraid to be yourself. It’s a life changing experience.

- Katie Staph, sixth-grade student and Ricochet participant

Research shows that youth learn by doing, therefore Ricochet is devoted to youth experiencing fun, challenging activities to develop their leadership skills. The program is based on three stages of leadership development and touches on five dimensions in each stage: leadership information, leadership attitudes, communication skills, decision making and stress management.

In an activity designed to stress the importance of clear communication, participants are challenged to build their own noodle shelter. The scenario finds them stranded on a desert island where the native people don’t communicate in the same way that they do. The teams set out to obtain building materials, but in the process need to communicate with the natives in ways that they understand — through dances, exercises, songs and other formations. With the building materials they receive, they then attempt to build the shelter.

As the students process the activity, they talk about  valuable individual assets that contribute to the team. They talk about how some forms of communication are not appropriate in certain situations. They also touch on appropriate ways to go about seeking help from community leaders.

Ryan Tighe and Kailey Hamdorf, participants of both Ricochet 1 and Ricochet 2 at Calamus Wheatland School, reflected on the changes they’ve experienced as a result of the program. According to Ryan, “I was stubborn before … I came to Ricochet and became more open minded.” Kailey said that she’s learned that leadership isn’t always easy, but it’s important to “face what’s in front of you,” recognizing that there will be challenges along the way.

For more information about the Ricochet program in Region 16 contact:
Andrea Ryan, Youth & Families Educator, 563-659-5125, andryan@iastate.edu
Bob Owen, Regional Extension Education Director, 563-263-5701, bobowen@iastate.edu