iBelieve program helps students develop skills

High school students in the iBelieve program held at Marietta College on Tuesday participate in a communication exercise – assembling a jigsaw puzzle as team with only one member permitted to speak. More than 50 students from a four-county area came to the day-long series of sessions intended to build skills in trust and team building, communication, leadership and ethics. (Photo by Michael Kelly)

MARIETTA  — Despite the presence of 16 high school students, the room was silent for the 30 minutes allotted to the task. Divided into groups of four, the students were concentrating on finishing jigsaw puzzles, the catch being that only one, “the communicator,” was allowed to talk.

Earlier in the day, those students and others in groups of eight had to navigate an obstacle course blindfolded, their only guidance being spoken directions from a leader who wasn’t blindfolded.

The morning was based on building trust and communication skills, teamwork and leadership.

The iBelieve Foundation has been helping students in Appalachia build skills needed for work, college and life in general since 2011, and its latest group of high school students spent a day at Marietta College putting those skills to the test. It was the culmination of a year or more of the process for more than 50 students from four counties – Guernsey, Morgan, Noble and Washington.

The group that finished its puzzle first pitched in to help another group that was struggling complete theirs before the deadline. Some said they used hand signals to move the process along, another group said it divided the work up according to the colors of the puzzle pieces.

It was the second year in the program for Bishop Nunn, a junior from Fort Frye High School.

“It’s been a phenomenal experience,” he said. “This morning, it was trials and tribulation, going through that obstacle course blindfolded, it shows you either lead or you listen.”

Nunn said his ambition next year is to become drum major for the school.

“This will help with communication skills in that situation, dividing up tasks toward a common goal,” he said. “It’s been a great day so far. I feel privileged and thankful.”

Tyrah Hall and Shelby Lockwood, both seniors, attended the program from Morgan County High School. It was the second year for both in iBelieve.

“The blindfold maze, you learn to trust people getting through that,” Hall said.

“That’s one aspect of a lot of positive things about this,” Lockwood said. “It shows you how to be a better person.”

Ethan Pierce is a senior at Caldwell High School. Talking over lunch on the college campus, he said he appreciates the broad application of what he’s learned.

“It’s a great program, very effective,” he said. “It teaches you teamwork, dedication, leadership. These are skills that are transferable to every aspect of life. I want to become a firefighter, and it’s important to know how to trust and rely on your leaders and your teammates.”

Connie Miley is the director of programming for the foundation. As the students and staff dined, she explained how the day was structured.

“The rest of the day will involve ethical decision-making, whether it involves being on a job, in college, or in daily life,” she said. “We have a set of questions students can use as guideposts. We hope to home in on open-mindedness, that we may not all have identical values, but that doesn’t mean that someone else’s values are wrong, they’re just different.”

Miley’s colleague Stefani Murray said the groups would wrap the day with creative, performance-style presentations of what they learned.

Phil Ackerman, who is the educational services director for the Ohio Valley Educational Service Center, said the event was organized and carried out by iBelieve, with which the ESC’s Student Readiness Council partners in delivering the program to 15 high schools and four career centers in its service area.

“It’s part of our leadership ETC program,” he said, explaining that the acronym stands for ethics, team work and critical thinking. “The goal is to increase the number of students who are ready for college, careers or the military when they come out of high school, to improve their preparation and readiness, especially in math and English, but also in life skills, communication, decision-making, team work and being responsible.”

More information on iBelieve is available at theibelievefoundation.com.

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