By Dana Trumbull
On Thursday, August 10, 292 sixth graders gathered at Centerstage Church (the old SMES building) to work through a series of seven classes designed to teach them leadership skills. The students attend Four Peaks, Desert Vista and Peralta Trail Elementary Schools, all of which are part of the Apache Junction Unified School District.
“CREW Training,” as it was called, originally started at Four Peaks Elementary, spearheaded by Principal Brenda Farris. After more than 30 years in the district, Farris retired this year, but Peralta Trail Principal Natalie Clement saw the value in the program and determined to move forward with plans to give all 6th graders in the district the opportunity to participate.
CREW stands for Caring, Responsible, Effortful and Wise… this year. Each year, students have determined what they want the acronym to mean. The guided activity of defining the name and what they hope to achieve at CREW is a kick-off to a day that studies seven traits of leadership: Show Integrity, Achieve Goals, Set Priorities, Choose Your Attitude, Give Respect, Create Team and Build Habits. Principal Clement charged the young attendees to, “Remember this in all you do. When you return to your campuses, embrace opportunities to demonstrate your new skills and inspire others.”
As students rotated through the classrooms, they were greeted by community leaders, who shared some of the ways in which the leadership trait they were discussing is expressed in their daily lives and accomplishments. AJHS Student Council members then led the students in activities that illustrated the trait in a manner accessible to the age group.
Council Member Jeff Struble, who helped to organize the event, commented afterward, “I know, based on the comments from the kids, they learned a lot, and it was a great way to start the year.”
Apache Junction Police Department Captain Arnold Freeman said of the experience, “I think this is a tremendous program and something I think must continue. It was a pleasure working with the entire staff and a nostalgic trip into my past by having the event at SMES.”
The local Kiwanis Club sponsored the program as a part of their education outreach goals, and community leaders from many local arenas participated: from the City Council, Jeff Struble and Robin Barker (who is also the owner/publisher of The Apache Junction & Gold Canyon News); business owners Brian Kabat (Frontier Ace Hardware) and Aaron McDermid (State Farm Insurance agent/owner); AJUSD Governing Board member Cami Garcia and Vice-President Dena Kimble; and Superstition Medical and Fire District and Apache Junction Police were represented by Chief Mike Farber and Captain Arnold Freeman, respectively.
“This was kind of a trial run, but it went well, and we seem to have the support for it to become an annual event,” Clement mused. “My hope is that our community will see this as a way to invest in the future of our kids, and our kids will grow from the confidence of knowing that our community is invested in them. Their education matters to us – not just ‘us’ as educators, but ‘us’ as members of the community. We are working to build a strong foundation for our future leaders.”