A New Standard of Service

If you would indulge me, I’d like to tell you a brief story.  In 2006, a high school student made a very poor decision (as teenagers often do) and decided to drive after she had been drinking.  It was New Year’s Eve and she had just left a party with friends when she ran a red light and hit another driver killing him instantly.  She walked away from this accident and has had to live with this terrible tragedy every since.  It wasn’t 24 hours before the local news outlets began blasting the story all over the print and media formats in Richmond.  The unfortunate side effect of this coverage, aside from the grief held by both families involved, was the dark cloud that settled over the school this young lady attended.  For months, there wasn’t a positive comment made about her school and the incident was attributed to the ‘type of student’ who attended this relatively new high school.  Fast forward 6 months and a forward thinking educator by the name of Kathleen Kern decided enough was enough.  She was sick of the negative cloud that hung over her place of employment that she decided to do something about it.  From this tragedy, grew a sense of purpose.  From this purpose grew a dedication to serve others.  A need to show the community what great kids attended this school emerged.  What followed over the next 11 years is an example of what service and transformational leadership is all about. The Deep Run Marathon Dance has become a way to not only give back to those less fortunate in and around central Virginia but it also became an avenue to teach young people the power of altruism.  www.marathondance.org

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As a secondary teacher, there is a lot of conversation about apathy and how it has become a commonly observed trait of young people.  Many teachers often talked about where this apathy started and how to we combat it in high school.  Analysis of a 2009 climate survey in Maryland for the target school revealed that 43% of the school’s total student body and 62% of the fifth graders scored in the “highly apathetic” range (Maryland State Department of Education, 2009).  One could argue that there are many contributing factors to this rise including but not limited to;  rise of high stakes testing, over exposure to technology (desensitization), and even drop in participation of extra curriculars. Many schools have put programs into place to try to alleviate the rise of this apathy like PBIS, anti-bullying programs, and more inclusive club options to try and engage more student involvement.

For Kathleen and the students of Deep Run, it was building the capacity to teach these young people how to utilize skills like collaboration, effective communication, long-term goal setting, problem solving, and the list goes on and on.  It was a chance to give these young people the autonomy to plan, organize, and implement an event that gave back to their community.   Many people in the Deep Run community congratulate Kathleen and she quickly corrects them and directs them to give those accolades to the student committee and the student dancers for their efforts. Her transformational leadership whereby a person engages with others and creates a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and the follower is evident through this event (Northouse, 2009).  To date, the Deep Run Marathon Dance has raised just shy of 2 million dollars for over 80 local non profits.

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Since 2007, thousands of young people who attended Deep Run have participated in this event and learned that in order to be a leader you must first learn to serve.  The best test is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? (Greenleaf, 1977). We can only hope that more building leaders see the longitudinal value in teaching young people the power of service.  The lasting impression this selfless approach has on the individual, the school, and the community will hopefully reverberate through society ultimately giving way to more kindness and a new educational standard for young people…serving others.

Timestamps for 2017 Closing Video

:00 – 4:51 –> Opening Skit   4:52 – 11:48 –> Beneficiaries Speak   11:49 – 16:12 –> Highlights

References:

Greenleaf, R.K. (1977). Servant Leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness.  New York: Paulist Press.

Northouse, P.G. (2013) Leadership: Theory and Practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE

Maryland State Department of Education. (2007). Maryland school assessment technical report.  Retrieved. http://marylandpublicschools.org

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