Cayuse Prairie students hone leadership skills

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Eighth-graders Mariah England, Nick Shelton, Cale Fox, Kesler Hughes and Hunter Frescas fill bags of rice at the Flathead Food Bank on Oct. 24 as part of a leadership class. (Hilary Matheson/Daily Inter Lake)

Over the semester Cayuse Prairie School eighth-graders have been learning how to be leaders and help out in their school and community.

The eighth-graders are part of a leadership class at Cayuse Prairie and spent Tuesday afternoon volunteering at the Flathead Food Bank.

The students also have picked up trash along the highway by their school and next month will visit the Montana Veterans Home in Columbia Falls as a community-service component of the class.

At the food bank, students split into four groups. At one table, eighth-grader Mariah England cut open a sack of rice and creased the flaps. Classmate Hunter Frescas used a measuring cup to scoop the rice into a resealable bag held open by Cayuse Prairie instructor Michael Pedersen, who teaches the leadership class.

For some students, like Frescas, this is their first time doing community service.

“It helps you give back to the community and improve it. It also helps you get to know people,” he said.

England, who has volunteered before with her church, finds it rewarding.

“I feel like it’s important to show you care about others,” England said.

The community-service aspect of the leadership class allows students who may not otherwise have thought about volunteering find a new interest and venture outside their comfort zone.

“It doesn’t matter if you have good grades or don’t ... everyone gets to participate. This is an opportunity to try to get out there — to be involved,” said Cayuse Prairie school counselor Annelies Pedersen.

Laurie Lutgen, a special education teacher at Cayuse Prairie, said the recent volunteer work gives students experience and ideas of how and where they can help the community as they transition into high school.

“We wanted to be able to give them basically skills out in the community and ideas of leadership,” Lutgen said.

Michael Pedersen said leadership is more than just overseeing a group of people.

“It’s understanding when it’s appropriate to stand up for yourself and your friends,” he said. “It’s definitely a skill to learn.”

Middle school is a key time in developing a personal identity.

“At this age in their life they’re exploring their personal values, their family values [and] their peer relationships,” Annelies Pedersen said.

This is why the leadership class also has students explore concepts such as self-esteem, confidence, ethics and values.

“What they believe in, what’s important to them, what they feel they should be standing up for,” said Michael Pedersen.

Or as Frescas put it, “how to have a strong moral compass to get the best results you can get.”

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or

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