These days, it can be hard to make plans months in advance.
Oak Lawn Elementary School student Ryan Golditch had to do just that earlier this year when offered the chance to attend the Envision Junior National Young Leaders Conference, which was held in July in Washington, D.C. He had been nominated for the conference by his fifth-grade teacher, Theresa Vessella.
“I found out around January first that she had nominated me. Because I was nominated, I was automatically accepted into the program,” Ryan said. “We were told there was a very high demand for the program, so I told my mom to enroll me right away.”
Ryan was not only the sole student from Cranston, but also the only attendee from Rhode Island.
“Ryan’s maturity, critical thinking and problem solving-skills made him an excellent candidate for the program,” Oak Lawn Principal James Zanfini said ahead of Ryan’s attendance at the program. “He will represent Oak Lawn, Cranston as well as Rhode Island as he works with other young leaders from around the country. I just know he will learn so much and do amazing work.”
Ryan and other attendees – middle school students in grades six through eight – had the chance to spend six days in and around the nation’s capital working on solutions to issues facing the country. They also had the chance to visit numerous historic sites.
Ryan, his dad, Jason, and mom, Lynda, drove to the program, which was held July 18-23. They were based out of College Park, Maryland, at the Marriott on the campus of the University of Maryland.
After registration and check-in, the program started right away. Students were broken into two groups, with approximately 20 children in each group. Ryan was placed in the James Madison group, and they worked with the Eisenhower group.
“We played ice breaker games, and then broke into leadership focus groups. The groups were mixed of boys and girls and mostly sixth-graders and a few upper grades,” Ryan said.
After dinner there were more games and a formal introduction and welcome from Envision staff.
“We were given a pre-program assignment to get “feedback for emerging learners, or FUEL,” Ryan said. “We had to talk to five mentors. I picked my principal, Mr. Zanfini; my rabbi, Yossi Laufer; my two older brothers, Jeffrey and Ethan; and Mrs. Scappatticci, another teacher at Oak Lawn.”
Ryan had specific reasons for picking each mentor.
“I chose Mr. Zanfini because he is my principal and someone who has helped me throughout my years at Oak Lawn,” he said. “He always took the time to meet with me if I had an issue. Rabbi Laufer has instilled in me the confidence to do more and be the best at whatever I want to achieve. He is someone I look up to in my community. Being the oldest brother, Jeff has been someone I admire and wish to follow him in his footsteps in being successful in my future career. Ethan has been a role model for me in academics and has shown me how to be disciplined in pursuing my academic goals. Mrs. Jen Scappatticci, she has given me extra work so that I am not bored in class. She understands me and pushes me to succeed academically.”
Participants in the program traveled to various landmarks such as Mt. Vernon, Maryland Science Center, Arlington Cemetery and the White House, where they had pictures taken outside the gate. The groups also went to the FDR, MLK, Lincoln, World War II, Korean and Vietnam memorials.
“We had to do a ‘Voices of Change’ project – identify a societal problem, how to correct it,” Ryan said. “We needed to do a trifold presentation. This was in the Education and Equity group. We focused on kids with disabilities. Our solution was to educate the people about how to make schools more accessible and easier for students with needs.”
Another project they worked on was politically based.
“It was called ‘My Day in Office.’ It was an election simulation. The top three people would be elected,” Ryan said. “I made a campaign poster, with the slogan ‘Don’t be crying, vote for Ryan.’ We had to make up a skit, form a campaign team. Then we showed our posters and performed. I was elected president, second place was vice president, and third place picked what they wanted to be.”
For the rest of the week, Ryan was called Mr. President and was given a “President of the United States” nametag.
Part of the “My Day in Office” simulation was to address the nation about a potential crisis in the country.
“There was a nuclear reactor malfunction in Maine,” Ryan recalled about his simulated crisis. “As president, I could take a risk and see if it could be fixed in time, or flood the reactor and poison the river. There was also an impending storm that could cause Maine to lose power.”
As president, Ryan conferred with the secretaries of energy, homeland security and defense. He also spoke with his chief of staff.
“While presenting the speech, I was notified they were able to fix the reactor, and the crisis was averted,” he said.
On Thursday, they presented their “Voices of Change” project.
“After we presented the projects, our group received the Best Take Away Message award,” Ryan said.
There was a guest speaker, Anthony Robles, who is an award-winning wrestler despite being born with one leg.
“His speech was to encourage people to not let obstacles or diversity get in their way,” Ryan said.
Ryan’s dad, Jason, was impressed with the experience his son had.
“More than a learning experience, it was also a social experience for Ryan,” he said. “He talked a lot about being elected president … it was a maturity experience. He became more involved with the program, he experienced camaraderie, he made bonds and contacts with kids all over the country.”
Ryan also had positive feedback.
“I got a lot out of it – leadership traits, being around other high achieving kids, more self confidence,” he said. “I was invited to come back next year. My favorite part was being elected president and meeting other people, from all over the country.”
Ryan is looking forward to starting the new school year as a sixth-grader at Hope Highlands Middle School. He has his mind set on attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study AI engineering.
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