LAKEVILLE, Minn. -- It's barely daylight, but teens are streaming into a Lakeville South High School conference room, catching up on gossip, joking, and (of course) eating the free pastries.
"Bring 'em in!" Activities Director Neil Strader points to a stack of chairs to be distributed around the room for the overflow crowd.
This is Lakeville South's Captain's Council.
"It's a place where all the captains get together and we learn about what it is to be a leader," said junior Laura Brown, who is a captain on the cross country team, and is also involved in drama.
"These people that are in this room serve as advisors to me," said Strader, who learned about the concept of a leadership council at an athletic conference nearly a decade ago.
At Lakeville South, he's working to widen his net to include students from all activities -- whether it's sports, debate, fine arts or academic teams.
"As an activities director, it's my job to be all inclusive and try to give kids from all areas a chance to continue to grow as a leader," said Strader.
Strader views himself as a bridge between students and administrators, bringing ideas back and forth that ultimately serve the students and the school.
Among the ideas student leaders have brought to fruition are a new food shelf in the school, an upcoming job fair for students and an all-school volunteering effort for Feed My Starving Children.
"All these are big dreams, but we're making them come true because we're bridging two really influential groups and bringing them together to make it happen," Strader said.
The other purpose of the Captain's Council is to help students grow as leaders.
"They really create a support network that isn't available to them out in school," explained Strader.
He invites guest speakers to talk to students, and also shares his own insights in the half hour or so he has the students before school starts.
Senior Lee Bares views it as time well spent. "I'll come out of there and say, 'Oh, we learned something cool about leadership today that taught us about the seven steps of being a leader,' and I'll talk to them (students) about that," Bares said.
Bound for West Point in the fall, Bares understands leadership is an important part of his education.
"It's definitely made me a better person," he said.
Personal growth is the goal. Strader can measure it over the course of a school year.
"It's really exciting to see them come in our August preseason meeting as a bunch of timid captains that really don't know what the job is about," said Strader, "and then have our post-season thank you end-of-the-year meeting in May and watch them walk away as really confident young men and women that re ready to change the world."
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