Peer Leadership, Life Skills class combine to educate and inspire students

By Brett Marshall

Of the many objectives for students who attend Garden City High School, learning how to mentor and lead are but two mainstays for programs implemented by USD 457.

Four years ago, the Life Skills class began under the guidance of Marcus Summers, but the class has expanded in the three years under Paul Lappin’s leadership. With 15 students in the Life Skills class, Lappin and school administrators have started the Peer Leadership class, a group of high-achieving students who mentor the Life Skills class in a variety of ways each day.

Lappin said the idea of the Peer Leadership class came to him a couple of years ago on a pancake day when his students were cooking pancakes on a grill and several student-athletes joined in to help with the cooking.

“I thought it was a very cool thing to see,” Lappin said. “I thought it was something we need to strive for.”

Today, those two groups are making a positive daily impact on the lives of both Life Skills and Peer Leadership participants.

Each day, after a carefully organized set of food (and drink) carts are loaded, the Peer Leaders and the Life Skills students travel around the GCHS hallways, stopping at more than 70 classrooms to sell a variety of drinks and snacks to hundreds of students each day. During a given school day, the six classes will see about 15 Life Skills students going with a dozen different Peer Leaders to sell their wares.

Lappin, who fondly calls the daily service, The Buffalo Coffee Shop, says this teaches students vocational and social skills along with independent living skills.

“Our Peer Leader students working with the Life Skills kids has been a tremendous program,” said Lappin, now in his third year overseeing the program. “This reinforces a daily routine and teaches a lot of responsibility and accountability. We’ve expanded the menu items and increased the classroom visits from about 16 to now around 72.”

Coffee, hot chocolate, iced coffee, fruit snacks, Cheez-Its and Gardettos are among the items available for sale.

Profits from the sales are used in a variety of ways, Lappin said.

Scholarships for Peer Leaders will now be available this school year after Lappin and other administrators created the application process and organizing a committee to select recipients. Two $500.00 scholarships will be awarded to the Peer Leadership students. Often, profits also will be donated to local Garden City charities, or to families who are in need.

“The finances of this have been a by-product of lucky coincidences,” Lappin said. “We’re doing so well with the student body that we can begin to make significant contributions to the benefit of others. I think seeing all the kids building relationships with each other has also been inspiring. It’s a testament to the kids to form these relationships, and you see them sitting together at lunch time.”

Ryan Meng, associate principal at GCHS, also said the program was providing positive experiences for all students involved and had impacted the general student population as well.

“I think how much they’ve learned about interacting with each other has been a big component of the program,” Meng said. “I’ve been impressed with how the teachers have embraced the program by letting the Life Skills/Peer Leaders knock on their doors and take a few minutes to sell the products to the students.”

Recently, Lappin said the Life Skills group donated $2,000 to the local Emmaus House and have made another $4,000 in donations to local charities and families. Lappin said the end goal for the school year is to donate $12,500 back into the Garden City community.

In May of 2019, just near the end of the school year, Lappin, Meng and a few other teachers and chaperones will take nearly 25 students in the combined programs on a five-day trip to Tampa, Fla., where they will rent a large beach house and provide a multitude of activities for the students.

Lappin said the students will be bussed to Wichita, where they will fly to Dallas and then on to Tampa.

“We’ll have a beach day, go to Busch Gardens (water park) and still planning other events for the group,” Lappin said. “This will help, as it’s a continuance of our Life Skills curriculum, and helps them learn to navigate new experiences and is a reward for the kids.”

What once was a small project has now become one of the more popular daily events for the two groups and for students in class. With more than $40,000 in gross revenue, the group has netted approximately $20,000 in profits after expenses for purchasing the food supplies.

“It’s certainly grown more than one might have expected, but we’re continually trying to bring new ideas into the mix,” Lappin said.

One future consideration will be how to expand the program for those students ages 18 to 21 years who will still be attending GCHS.

“The state (Kansas) wants a different program for the older kids,” Lappin said. “They want it to become more public so we will be looking at ways of taking the students into the community more. But how that looks I’m not sure as of now.”

Once a month, the group provides an extra special menu, including breakfast burritos and/or pancakes. On those days, Lappin said, the group will take in between $1,000 and $2,000.

What started out as a small endeavor for teaching life skills has become a life-impacting experience for many students, teachers and administrators at GCHS.

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