The worldwide coronavirus pandemic eliminated traditional summer learning opportunities for the Batten Leadership Fellows, so the students found alternative ways to grow and prepare for the upcoming school year.
For four straight days in June, the students talked, listened, and learned during a virtual Purpose Summit, which aimed to build their own self-awareness, teach them a better understanding of the Fellows Programs' objectives, and get them to consider how they can create positive change.
“It made me think about how I'm going to use the rest of my time as a Fellow, and how I'm going to have an impact," said Maddie Brooks '21, a Global Health Fellow.
The Batten Leadership Program reflects Norfolk Academy's commitment to producing disciplined, civic-minded leaders who can positively create change. Students, who apply in ninth grade and remain in the program through graduation, seek solutions to real-world challenges through research and experiential learning.
Students enter one of five sections: Chesapeake Bay Fellows engage in environmental scholarship; EDI Fellows solve problems using engineering and design; Global Affairs Fellows examine conflicts around the world; Global Health Fellows focus on public health issues; and Literacy Fellows use reading and writing to break cycles of poverty.
One regular aspect of the Program is summer travel, where students conduct hands-on fieldwork and research and find ways to help communities in need of support. Last summer, their destinations included South America, Central America, and locations around the United States.
The pandemic made such travel impossible this summer. Instead, all 89 Fellows participated in the Purpose Summit, aided by 13 faculty directors.
Daily sessions ran three hours. They included leadership lessons from Ross Wehner, founder of the World Leadership School, which aims to develop purpose-driven youth. They also included workshops in which students examined their own habits and social and organizational skills, then shared them with a group.
They also included presentations from Fellows alumni: Stuart Luter '16, Pablo Vazquez Paramo '16, Elise Turrietta '16, Sebastian Singh '19, and Emma Somers '19. They offered personal anecdotes from their lives and tied them to their experiences at Academy and as Fellows.
Mr. Vazquez Paramo told the Fellows that his mother and father were immigrants from Mexico who did not have college degrees and worked several jobs to provide for the family. Rather than feel sorry for himself, he embraced Academy's ideals of honor, respect, and integrity, and turned his circumstances into positives.
While in Upper School, he joined the soccer team. His parents could not give him rides to summer practices. So, he demonstrated the values of hard work and determination, riding his bike from home to the field and back - 6 miles both ways.
He graduated this spring from Yale University.
“Look at your hearts," he told the Fellows. "What is your adversity and how are you going to react to that?"
Matt Wetmore '21, a Chesapeake Bay Fellow, admits he went into the Summit disappointed that summer travel wasn't possible. He ended up learning about himself and gaining motivation for the upcoming year. "You need to know yourself before you can know and lead others," he said.
Toward the close of the summit, students offered goals for the upcoming school year. Many centered around how they could help those outside NA. Global Affairs Fellows intend to partner with businesses and groups severely impacted by the pandemic, like migrant farmers. Literacy Fellows aim to publish a book about the St. Paul's Revitalization Project, which is dramatically changing an area near downtown Norfolk.
“Our first goal is to develop a relationship with a local community organization and build a consistent partnership for service and collaboration, and we hope to have more local community outreach and to develop a connection with a local service partner," said Leila Jamali '21, a Global Health Fellow.
Mr. Sean Wetmore, director of the Batten Leadership Program, was pleased that the vast majority of students said they gained a clearer sense of the program's purpose from the summit, and better understand how they fit in. Working together over the summer will also make collaboration easier during the school year, he added.
“It ended up being very powerful," he said.
Maddie agreed. She's eager to start problem solving with her fellow students.
“It made the whole Fellows program a little closer," she said.
Please read more about the Batten Leadership Program.