Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

October 1, 2013

Building leaders

Beta Club conference’s empathy luncheon teaches students how to know others

RACELAND — Trying to communicate without talking can be frustrating, Alex Roy learned Tuesday.

For about an hour, the Raceland eighth-grader had to depend on a note pad and her own devices to make her way through a gymnasium full of other kids and get to the lunch buffet table.

“It took a whole new way of thinking,” she said after the no-speech command was lifted.

Alex was not the only one dealing with a temporary affliction; all 180 of the kids assembled for a Beta Club conference wrestled with one faux handicap or another; some wore blindfolds, some were tied together, and others had their thumbs taped down.

Besides coping with their own adversities, the students were expected to assist one another in navigating their way through the hour.

What moderator Thomas Dismukes called an empathy luncheon was an exercise in learning what makes other people tick. In a larger sense it was about knowing people in order to make effective leadership decisions, and about getting in touch with one’s own inner resources.

Beta Club sponsors Heather Music and Zenaida Smith brought the motivational speaker in for a two-day conference to prepare them for life outside their Raceland cocoon. “We want them to step out of their comfort zones. We live in our own little world of Raceland where we are used to our peers and friends,” Music said.

But the purpose of the club is to groom future leaders through service and academic achievement, so they will need to test themselves, according to Music.

That was where Dismukes’ approach and the empathy luncheon came in. “We’re trying to make them miserable. We learn more from miserable situations. The more miserable we can make them the more they can grow,” he said.

The empathy exercise leads to growth in patience, helpfulness and self-sacrifice, all of which are leadership qualities, he said.

Later, Dismukes led a raucous round of Simon Says, the laughter underscoring a serious point each time players were forced out of the game. “Take responsibility. Losers make excuses,” he said. “Don’t you dare make excuses. You live and die by the choices you make.”

The Beta Club, which at Raceland includes students from fifth through 12th grades, has proven to be highly popular and a powerful academic motivator, Smith said.

Among requirements for joining is a 3.5 grade-point average, and to remain in the club from year to year requires maintaining at least a 3.2 average, Music said.

And interested students are tracking their grades more closely to ensure they qualify, according to Smith. “The kids understand what is required and are taking more ownership of their successes and failures,” she said.

Beyond that, she has noticed an upswing in the sincerity with which students approach the service component. “They’re living up to the spirit of the club and the school,” she said.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.

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