Annual High School Leadership Conference offers students opportunity to experience Central Arizona

PINAL COUNTY, Ariz. – When George Tulia climbed onto the table to rise above the students from Maricopa, Coolidge, Casa Grande and Superior highs schools, the Central Arizona College student leader was about to put his team-building monologue to the test.

At 6 feet, 4 ½ inches and 300 pounds, the native of Samoa finally offered relief to the bowing table with a backward plunge into the outstretched arms of his nervous high school students.

Arms locked together, the students punctuated their experience at Central Arizona College’s Annual High School Leadership Conference by catching the former Vaquero basketball forward while simultaneously learning about trust.

“I need to put myself out there,” Tulia said. “If I am going to ask them to trust me, and to trust each other, then I need to trust them.”

The program is the brainchild of Christopher Braybrooks, the student leadership coordinator at Central Arizona College who had an impact while attending classes at the Signal Peak Campus over the last two years.

“The goal of the High School Leadership Conference is to give students an opportunity to develop their leadership skills, interest them in college, and teach them about Central Arizona College’s many programs,” Braybrooks said.

Braybrooks, Tulia and Rob Pineda teamed up for a presentation entitled Fanning the Flame, one of four workshops that the students attended throughout Thursday’s event. The program was designed to spur problem-solving, foster teamwork, and build trust.

One activity involved the students standing shoulder to shoulder in a circle with their arms stretched into the center. Each student had to grab the wrist of two other students not positioned adjacent to them.

The kaleidoscope of students was then required to expand itself into one continuous circle without letting go. The exercise required leadership, negotiation, forethought, and the ability to both give and receive direction.

After roughly 20 minutes of gyrations, the final group of the day figured out how to unravel the geometric challenge.

Another activity was entitled Icebreaker led by Tulia, who is more gentle giant than grizzly bear. His humor, quick wit and personality rapidly captured the students’ trust. During the icebreaker session, Tulia’s patented routine ends with ice literally dropped down the back of a trusting student.

Students were interspersed into groups instead of aligned by school, requiring the forging of new teams with strangers. In the end, they all could end up attending Central Arizona College together.

“This type of program really can get students interested in attending to college,” Braybrooks said. “By the end of today, we will have students admitted to Central Arizona.”

When the team building ends, the serious discussions about higher education degrees, paying for post-secondary schooling and getting a job are mapped out by the workshop counselors.

Students receive paperwork they can complete and submit before leaving the campus. When they return to their high school, they have already been admitted to Central Arizona College.

The program is not just about inspiring students, but also is used as a recruiting tool to find new leaders to replace those students who are graduating. Central’s student leaders are recruited, interviewed and then offered leadership positions that include scholarship dollars to help defer costs.

The program ran from 8:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. and featured a total of four workshops, lunch and a closing event. The workshops were run by both Central Arizona College staff and students and featured titles such as Don’t Be a Lump of Coal, Feel the Heat and Leap.

(For more information on future high school leadership conferences, please contact Chris Braybrooks at christopher.braybrooks@centralaz.edu or by phone at 520-494-5994.)


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