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Modeling success: Operation Impact

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TEACHER: Atkinson and Lincoln Elementary School fifth- grade teacherLynda Laatsch, who once taught Atkinson at Northwest Elementary School, talk to students. Laatsch said she is proud that Atkinsonhas grown into the leader he is today and is able to give back to the next generation of students in Huntington County.
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RED: HNHS senior Adam Zahn answers questions from students to build a relationship that will show students that planning for the future and focusing on school will lead to success. Both mentors wore HNHS clothing to encourage the kids to do well so that they will be Vikings, too, one day.
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MENTOR: Huntington North High School senior Spencer Atkinson helps students fill out a list of goals, during the first official meeting of Operation Impact at Lincoln Elementary School.

by Andrew Maciejewski - amaciejewski@h-ponline.com

When Huntington North High School senior Spencer Atkinson was in elementary school, high school students were like super heroes to him.

Now, he is the super hero, setting an example of success for the next generation of Huntington County students.

In its second year, Operation Impact is continuing to build relationships between Huntington North High School (HNHS) students and Huntington County Community Schools Corporation (HCCSC) elementary students to set an example that leadership, self-confidence and proper decision-making skills lead to success both inside and outside of the classroom.

Atkinson and fellow senior Adam Zahn towered over Lynda Laatsch’s fifth-grade class at Lincoln Elementary School, as they helped students set goals, during the first official day of Operation Impact on Friday.

Laatsch, who once taught Atkinson in fifth grade at Northwest Elementary School, said the high school students are showing the fifth-graders what a positive attitude towards learning can produce.

“I knew Spencer and Adam at this age,” Laatsch said. “To watch them now, I can see the influence that they have with the kids. Being successful, coming from them, sounds different than it does coming from me.”

From his experience, Atkinson said he thinks the students listen differently when things are coming from a fellow peer, as opposed to an authoritarian figure like parents or teachers.

“I always thought the high schoolers who came in were like super heroes. It was just a different kind of relationship than with a teacher,” Atkinson said. “With a teacher, you expect to learn more, but we are more like big brothers or friends.”

Laatsch said her students light up just like Atkinson and Zahn did when high school students in the D.A.R.E. program came to Northwest.

“They absolutely love when they come in,” she said. “I think once they’ve gone through the program, the kids get a better idea of who they are and what they want to be.”

The program, Laatsch added, also benefits the high school students because they are realizing that volunteering can help them achieve something bigger than themselves.

HNHS Principal Russ Degitz reiterated that notion.

“Operation Impact is very rewarding for our high school students to have a positive influence and make a difference with younger students in our district,” Degitz said in a statement. “Our high school students possess high character and integrity, and it is a great opportunity for them to share their life experiences and speak to life lessons with the fifth-graders. The relationships that are formed and the fun experiences are bonuses and things that our students will be able to remember for a lifetime.”

Horace Mann Elementary School Principal Mark Dubois said the program fits perfectly with HCCSC’s mission to be a strong advocate for teaching the importance of life skills and preparing students for the future, beyond school.

“Our older students can be some of the best role models for our younger students because they can more easily relate to today’s issues,” Dubois said in a statement. “Operation Impact gives all of our students the ability to apply these teachings in a collaborative effort. Our high school students are given the opportunity to model and talk about their life experiences with our elementary students, and that is powerful.”

Atkinson said he was glad that the program came about since the D.A.R.E. program stopped before he could become involved. He said mentorship programs like that are “very influential.”

“I think with the way the program is heading, this is something that is going to last for a long time,” Atkinson said.

Flint Springs Elementary School Principal Aimee Lundsford said she has seen a significant impact after the first year of Operation Impact came to a close during the 2017-18 school year.

“While I was a strong supporter of the DARE program, what has been done through Operation Impact gives us the same message, yet reaches a bit deeper,” Lundsford said in a statement. “I think a lot of this is due to the tie many of our kids have to the mentors that do the teaching. Our kids see them as role models and want to emulate them. Hearing this message straight from those they look up to so much is very powerful!”

Operation Impact will continue through January and February, and HNHS mentors will visit classrooms and share lessons with their groups, culminating in a graduation ceremony in the spring, according to HCCSC reports.