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“I Can Wholeheartedly Say That Day Changed My Life”

Elise Turner Stockman illuminates the impact of Youth Leadership Forum on her career and classroom

Then: Sophomore, Leeds High School; Youth Leadership Forum (YLF) Class of 2013

Now: Third-grade teacher, Leeds Elementary School

“I prepared for my YLF interview for weeks. My school counselor told me how great the program was and that it was selective. I was overjoyed and honored when I was asked to join.

“My most memorable YLF experience was Human Services Day. I can wholeheartedly say that day changed my life. I visited the Exceptional Foundation—a wonderful organization that provides social and recreational services for adults and children with special needs. I had known I wanted to be a teacher, but I realized I had a deep-rooted passion for working with people with special needs. (I later did student teaching in a special-education classroom and volunteered with Special Olympics.) We also did a privilege exercise that opened my eyes to the struggles of others. I just got chill bumps realizing how much that day shaped me into who I am today.

Elise with several of her YLF classmates in 2013

“Leadership is not just about what you know. It is about learning from others as well. YLF was a key part of my growth and development in my education and career. I was able to meet so many amazing people in our community that I never would have known otherwise. I learned the importance of listening, exchanging ideas, and fostering relationships. And I learned that my way of thinking is not the only way. I take these ideas everywhere I go.

“Everyone I met had someone else who encouraged or empowered them to get to where they were. We should strive to meet and listen to all of the diverse people around us. Because of YLF, I became more active in my community. If I want to see change, then I need to create the change.

“My favorite aspect of teaching is watching my students grow. I love teaching writing, and a third-grader’s imagination is something wonderful. I take special notice of students who may be labeled ‘strugglers’ and focus on their progress. I also have a few students with special needs whom I shower with love and encouragement. We always say, ‘It’s not that I can’t. It’s just that I can’t yet.’ I love to see the joy on their faces when they realize they have met a goal they didn’t think was possible.

“A socially distanced classroom has an entirely different atmosphere than a typical classroom. The biggest challenge for me has been the social aspect. There have been a lot less hugs! Last year my students collaborated in groups most of the day. This year, they are spaced out to respect everyone’s safety. My students have adjusted well. We have found new and interesting ways to interact and show kindness and love. For example, we use pool noodles to play tag at recess.”