This summer four Riverside-Brookfield High School students spent a week on a ranch in Colorado -not just any ranch, but one where they participated in a program designed to make them better leaders.

Now the four RBHS students – juniors Elise Castelaz, Kevin Garvey, Mike Hornung and Emma Schander – are taking what they learned at the J. Kyle Braid Leadership Foundation Ranch and spreading their knowledge and skills to other students.

On Aug. 30 Garvey, Horning, Castelaz and Schander and 39 other student leaders that they had trained over the summer descended in teams of two and three on freshmen classrooms for a nearly 45-minute session on conflict resolution skills.z

They acted out skits that showed the right way – and the wrong way – to settle typical problems that occur between teenagers.

They emphasized identifying the issue causing the conflict; acknowledging the feelings of the person who you are having the dispute with; speaking calmly; listening to and respecting the views of others; speaking in simple, direct, unemotional terms; looking for a solution; and deciding on a plan of action.

“The conflict resolution program is centered around students teaching other students,” said RBHS Spanish teacher Jenna Passananti, who is a volunteer advisor to the J. Kyle Braid fellows. “Students teaching other students is a very powerful tool. It will impact the culture of our school in the most positive way possible.”

The J. Kyle Braid Leadership Foundation was founded by Ken and Colleen Braid in 1994 after their 15-year-old son took his own life, an action they believe was influenced by his use of anabolic steroids.

Ken Braid was a captain of the University of Illinois football team in 1973 and a graduate of Hinsdale Central High School. His son was a high school football player in Florida.

Every summer groups of student athletes with leadership potential who are selected by their schools spend a week at the ranch during the summer between their sophomore and junior years of high school. The program includes experiential and classroom-based learning focusing on leadership and life skills.

The students tackle a low-intensity ropes course, take care of a horse and even play paintball in a variety of confidence, leadership and team-building exercises at the ranch, which is in south central Colorado.

“It was awesome,” said Garvey, an RBHS football  and baseball player. “It was great. I learned a lot of new stuff, a lot of new skills like conflict resolution skills, negotiation skills, stress managewment skills, self-help skills, a lot of stuff like that. I met a lot of great people. I learned how to become a better leader.”

Hornung, a golfer and member of the track team, said that the week at the ranch helped him recognize the leadership potential that others have seen in him.

“Teachers say ‘Oh you’re a leader,’ but going to this and being recognized for it and really learning these skills I feel like I can truly make a difference and get things going in the right direction,” Hornung said.

A grant from the RB Educational Foundation paid for the four students to spend the week at the ranch with students from other schools. Castelaz, Garvey, Hornung and Schander were nominated by RBHS coaches and were selected to spend the week at the ranch after an application process that involved interviews with coaches, teachers and J. Kyle Braid leaders from other local schools.

Boys and girls attend separate week-long programs at the ranch.

While the J. Kyle Braid Leadership Foundation has been training high school students to be leaders since 1994, this is the first year that any RBHS students have been part of the program.

During the summer of 2010 Passananti, who had been to the ranch as a Lyons Township High School student in 2002, suggested to the then-new principal at RBHS, Pamela Bylsma, that RBHS might want to get involved with the Baird Foundation.

Bylsma, who was very familiar with the Baird Foundation from her time as an assistant principal at Hinsdale Central and who knew the Bairds, thought it was a great idea.

Spots are hard to get, but when one school dropped out of the program RBHS grabbed the open slot.

Passananti, whose older brother, Mike, also was a J. Kyle Braid fellow and now serves on the foundation’s board of directors, knows first hand the power of the week at the ranch and the overall program.

“I can still say to this day that the week I spent at the J. Kyle Braid Leadership Ranch was the most important and powerful experience of my life,” said Jenna Passananti in an email.

Garvey believes that the conflict resolution skills training and other yet-to-be-determined upcoming programs will improve the atmosphere at RBHS.

“I think the bullying will decrease,” Garvey said. “I think everything will decrease. It will be in the back of their minds. I think it will help us out a lot.”

This article has been updated to correct a quote that was misattributed.