School officials said Chick-fil-A became aware of River Ridge’s Excalibur Society, a leadership program run by Lead 12th-grade counselor Jeff Bennett, and asked the school to participate in the seven-month pilot that also teaches leadership skills.
“It’s a type of program that is about community impact,” Bennett said. “They heard about River Ridge, they saw what we were already doing and they wanted us to be a part of it here in Cherokee County. We’re the only high school in Cherokee County that was asked to be part of this pilot.”
Principal Darrell Herring said that even before the high school opened five years ago, he hired Bennett to help foster an encouraging program for student leadership.
Together, Bennett and Herring created the Excalibur Society, which Bennett has publicized and grown with social media.
“Jeff Bennett and I developed that program and we watched it grow,” Herring said. “It’s just been a fabulous thing. We see our first senior class, now in college, and they’re doing outstanding because of that.”
Once a month, River Ridge offers leadership programs for any student who is interested. From communication and problem-solving skills, to community needs and motivational speakers, Bennett said the Excalibur Society leadership program has been a big success.
“I think it’s fabulous that our program has been recognized by the Chick-fil-A leadership initiative,” Herring said.
With the addition of the Chick-fil-A Leadership Academy, Bennett said students are working together more than ever.
“They’re developing their own projects and becoming more engaged,” Bennett said. “I’ve really enjoyed watching groups of students who did things on their own, come together to work on projects. They’re seeing how River Ridge is a whole, how all of them working together can make a huge impact.”
As part of the pilot program for the Chick-fil-A Leadership Academy, 30 students at each participating high school are taking part in a 7-month leadership curriculum that ends with groups of students enacting “Impact Projects,” that will help the community.
All students at River Ridge were allowed to write an essay to apply for one of the 30 positions in the Chick-fil-A Leadership Academy pilot program, and Bennett said he originally didn’t expect to get more than 50 or 60 essays.
“We got like, 120 applications that we had to go through,” Bennett said. “We have representatives from all groups.”
Bennett said the students are coming up with their own ideas for impact projects, which will be used to involve the entire student body.
“By the end, everyone will have the opportunity to be involved,” Bennett said. “It’s a great program.”
Justin Maxwell, the 2013-14 Cherokee School Board Student Delegate for River Ridge, said his group has come up with a few ideas for their project.
“Maybe (we’ll) have some kind of 9/11 memorial and make paper stars, or do a book donation for less-fortunate kids around the elementary school age,” he said.
Maxwell said since many other schools applied to participate in the pilot program, he thought it was great that River Ridge was sought out to participate.
Maxwell said that he wants to attend the University of North Georgia to study business and music management. As a member of the school band and Fellowship of Christian Athletes worship leader, Maxwell said he’s interested in all aspects of music.
Bennett said the Chick-fil-A pilot program’s additions to the existing River Ridge leadership efforts are useful, and even if the corporate sponsor doesn’t decide continue the program in future years, River Ridge will probably continue to use a similar method.
The River Ridge Excalibur Society can be found online on Facebook or on Twitter @RRHSLeadership.