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HHS Students Develop Leadership Skills in Rotary Youth Leadership Experience

It was a busy summer for juniors Ben Canino and Mark Cozzupoli, two Highland Central School District youth who attended the 2022 Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) leadership conference at Mount Saint Mary College. Their participation was sponsored by the Highland Rotary Club. 

            RYLA is an annual event that brings youth from across the region together for an intensive experience designed to help them develop skills in leadership, team building, problem-solving, and communication, while also having fun and making connections. RYLA’s main goal is to teach youth about the power of confidence, comfort, and cooperativeness. Participants are provided a once-in-a-lifetime experience that builds social and working skills. 

            Both young leaders from Highland High School returned from the conference excited and energized about their experience. They both presented at a Highland Rotary Club meeting and spoke to the group about the many experiences they had at RYLA. 

            Canino says the most valuable thing he took away from RYLA was a new perspective on working with others. “We had an exercise that went over the different types of people and we learned a lot about how people have different ways of thinking,” explained Canino. “It really helped us think about and understand how to work with others who are different from us.”

            He also enjoyed participating in the “Invention Convention,” which he explains helped participants think outside of the box, become confident in uncomfortable situations, and work together as a group. His group was challenged to create a product using simple items such as beach toys, solo cups, and the most important thing–their imagination. They designed a drum set with a hodgepodge of supplies and then created a sales pitch and a product jingle for their invention. 

            Cozzupoli says he really enjoyed meeting new people and the positive energy at the conference. “It really pushed you to go out of your comfort zone and meet new people. It was a lot of fun.” 

            Each day, students were grouped together for three hours where they worked on a project that was presented at the end of the conference. Cozzupoli was part of the “Hollywood” group, which tasked imaginative individuals to perform and record an original video production. He fell right into his role and had fun with the project, a murder-mystery comedy. 

            Canino’s group created a music video. Other groups were Engineering, Dance Crew, Game Show, Nightly News, Sitcom, and many more. “One of my favorite parts of RYLA was seeing all of the group’s final presentations,” said Canino. 

            Canino and Cozzupoli are both interested in returning to RYLA next year as junior counselors, and this year they plan to join the Highland High School Interact Club, a branch of the Rotary for young people ages 12-18 who carry out hands-on service projects in the community.

“I’m so proud of Ben and Mark for stepping out of their comfort zones and making the most out of this incredible experience,” said Superintendent Joel Freer, who is also a member of the Highland Rotary Club. “These young men have bright futures before them, and listening to them speak about the event and seeing them grow through this experience was very rewarding.”