Twenty ninth-graders have led the way for the future of the youth PIECE Project.
Eight months ago the students didn't know what to expect when embarking on the first-ever youth Peer Involvement Encouraging Community Engagement Project.
"There wasn't a doubt in my mind I wanted to try and see what this was about," said Rachael Hodison, 15, of West Junior High.
On Wednesday, Hodison, vice president of her school's student council, and 19 of her PIECE classmates graduated during a ceremony at Southwest Junior High School after their final monthly session.
"I look at Lawrence differently now," she said. "It opened my eyes to options."
The group of potential leaders were selected from about 60 applicants in April 2007 by members of the Leadership Lawrence Program. About two years ago, the idea for a junior PIECE course was introduced to model the adult leadership program. Students met one Wednesday a month at different locations with the goal of learning and seeing as much of the community as possible while developing leadership skills and community service skills. The teen project was sponsored by Sunflower Bank.
Activities included visiting local businesses such as the Lawrence Humane Society and taking a "behind-the-scenes" look at the Kansas University men's basketball program, meeting community business leaders during a job fair and even creating their own Lawrence businesses.
"This whole project, I think, exceeded everyone's expectations by a long shot," said Jeff Novorr, co-chairman of the PIECE Project. "The kids just did wonderfully. I think I probably speak on behalf of everyone involved whether coordinating the day or development of the project, I think we all learned something not only from kids but going through" the course.
Novorr told the students they "set the standard very high for future PIECE classes."
The next class of 25 students will begin the next academic year.