Leaders in training

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These kids? Even for school "leaders," they're pretty shy, says advisor Caity Karapostoles.

She looks around the Sequim Middle School gymnasium as groups of students gather in small circles and warily look around, like schools of circumspect fish.

Nothing a few cinnamon rolls and some group cheers can't fix.

Last week, Sequim hosted a leadership conference for middle school-aged students from across the region on how to become better leaders and serve as examples for their peers.

Sponsored by the Association of Washington School Principals, the conference tries to get these young leaders together and expose them to leadership skills, says Rob Ohashi, conference director and teacher/do-it-all from Elma.

"The underlying theme here is for students to take risks, to interact with different social groups," Ohashi said.

Ohashi, a 20-year veteran of similar state school leadership programs, said the hope is that the skills students learn here, at the so-called Middle Level Regional Conference, they'll bring back to their own schools.

Students from several area and out-of-area middle schools, including Stevens (Port Angeles), Forks, Clallam and Neah Bay, Chimacum, Kingston and as far as Belfair's Hawkins Middle School, made the trek to Sequim Middle School's gymnasium on Feb. 10.

Given a collection of exercises, the students worked on some of the conference's main themes, Ohashi said, such as communication, project planning and ice breakers. That included a few group cheers and a snack break featuring cinnamon rolls, a crowd favorite.

Sequim's own leaders got a jump-start on becoming leaders when a crew of 11 students - Matisen Anders, Dylan Chatters, Stewart Cockburn, Janie Griffith, LaVee Hess, Gabi Halady, Grace Koenigsaecker, Sabrina Marunde, Allison Masangkay, Mariah Riedel and Ciara Westhoven - got busy days before by painting posters and prepping notebooks during lunches and after school.

Karapostoles said there's already been a benefit from the leadership conference: Sequim and Stevens Middle schools are challenging each other to a food drive that benefits the two cities' food banks.

Washington middle schoolers attended similar conferences across the state this week in Ilwaco, Marysville, Richland, Graham and Lacey.

Reach Michael Dashiell at

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