The following was originally published in the Press-Republican.

BEEKMANTOWN — Beekmantown Central School became one of the the first schools in the United States to work with an international program run by Harvard University focused on leadership, communications and creating future change-makers.

Forty students from Beekmantown Middle School spent the week of June 26-30 participating in the Harvard Young Leadership Program run by Harvard students who spent the week at the middle school. Students learned how to use data, think analytically, communicate effectively, work in teams and about college life and the application process.

“They provided us with a lot of good information that we can use in future courses as well as negotiating, leadership and communication skills,” said 8th-grader Olivia Burgin, who hopes to attend Harvard one day.


Beekmantown Principal Duffy Nelson brough the five-day intensive program to her school with the use of GEAR UP grant funds secured by CFES Brilliant Pathways as part of a federal grant it landed five years ago to work with schools across the North Country.

“I knew they would get a lot of out this experience by having exposure to other people’s vast experiences like these mentors who have traveled all over the world,” said Nelson. “It’s a unique opportunity to bring such an in-depth program taught by Harvard students to our community.”

The program kicked off Monday with a focus on communications, a workshop on speech delivery and a series of debates. Day two focused on how to be an effective leader, followed by the art of negotiation, developing soft skills such as networking, and a variety of interactive role playing games to test what students learned.


Ryan Jung, a sophomore at Harvard who taught the same program in Vietnam a few weeks ago, said it has also been taught in India, Dubai, Indonesia, and Ghana, among other countries. The structure of the program is the same no matter where it’s being presented: students engaging in leadership activities, contextual problem-solving, and group collaboration to generate inventive solutions to some of the most urgent challenges of our era.


The final day featured students presenting hands-on final projects with measurable outcomes. They pitched their product to judges in search of financing similar the ABC show Shark Tank.

Burgin, who wants to attend Harvard, and her classmate Ella Slick were part of a team that designed an eco-friendly running shoe. “As partners we divide and conquer,” said Burgin. “I designed the shoelaces with materials that grow at a fast rate and are also biodegradable like cotton and hemp that grows at the rate of bamboo, which is 20 times than a tree will grow. Cotton has a 125-day cycle so we just blend them together with other natural fibers.”

Burgin and Slick are looking forward to reuniting with the Harvard mentors for a special tour of campus when they attend Harvard Model UN next year. “We used our networking skills,” said Slick.