It was Thursday morning, a hot muggy day and only days away from the start of school. Yet cars were pulling into the Bishop Hendricken High parking lot and boys were getting out, albeit not wearing coats and ties.
Vincent Mancusco, dean of academics, was happy to see them. Actually, he was more than happy. He was excited because this was the naissance of a new school program that has been in the making for the past year.
Mancusco and mathematics teacher Claudine Davenport are co-directors of the Bishop Hendricken Leadership Academy. On Thursday, 96 students from grades 10, 11 and 12 attended the daylong retreat, which started with prayer in the school chapel.
They’re committed to volunteering a good deal more of their time in the upcoming school year. The academy meets daily from 7:45-8:25 a.m. before the start of the school day.
“This is a proud moment,” school president Father Robert Marciano said while addressing the boys. “You not only want to be a leader, but you want to learn to be a leader.”
He spoke about learning to be a leader and natural leaders, answering his own rhetorical question as to who was the world’s greatest natural leader – Jesus.
“With just 12 men, he changed the course of history,” he said.
Mancusco said 10th-graders would focus on character leadership by identifying problematic school issues and developing solutions. According to a curriculum overview, the course is based on nine characteristics, including attitude, preparation, perseverance, respect, honesty, integrity, courage, empathy and ethics.
Students in the 11th and 12th grades are challenged to take on a national or international problem and work together.
And what might that be?
Mancusco said the Hendricken Academy is patterned after leadership academies at Iona Prep and St. Laurence High School. He said that St. Laurence students identified infections as commonplace at childbirth in developing countries. To address the problem, the students published a book instructing people how to avoid infections, which was distributed in Africa.
Another issue identified by St. Laurence students was that student athletes were stressed out by their goal to perform in the classroom as well as on the athletic field. They developed a time management manual for student athletes.
The course is designed to challenge students to develop “and hone their skills in organizational management, ethics, advocacy and strategic planning, which are critical component to their development as effective leaders.”
Mancusco is looking to bring in local leaders to inspire the students and talk about their work. He is hopeful Bishop Thomas Tobin will address students when the leadership academy gets underway with the opening of school this Thursday.
The academy, which won’t carry a school grade, is voluntary, and Mancusco said if for some reason a student felt pressured for time or for another reason found it difficult to participate, they could drop out. Members of the student council have chosen to join the academy, as well as some students who Mancusco hadn’t expected to be interested.
The academy, with 55 students, incorporates 41 students already enrolled in the school’s leadership through the arts program.
“We didn’t want kids to have to choose,” Mancusco said, explaining the melding of academies. Mancusco and Davenport will serve as academy teachers.
In his 25 years at the school, Mancusco has served in many roles, starting as a teacher and going on to become assistant principal, vice president and then taking the reins as principal. But few things have energized him like the leadership academy. He said discussion for the academy started with retired school president John Jackson and was enthusiastically embraced by Fr. Marciano.
He said he’s looking forward to being in the classroom again.
“I always love to teach,” he said.
He envisions leadership academy students as also being mentors to eighth- and ninth-grade students and conducting leadership seminars.
In remarks to the group, school Principal Mark DeCiccio talked about what it takes to be a leader.
“If you want people to be accountable you have to be accountable to yourself,” he said. He also touched on the willingness to compromise; the need to provide solutions to problems; being a listener; and dealing with failure.
“When you fail, you fall forward,” he said.
Mancusco focused on truth.
“To be a good leaders, you have to speak the truth,” he said.
He urged members of the new academy to be truthful to each other.