Some people are natural born leaders and Shelby Elementary School teacher Ron Buck recognizes one when he sees it. There are certain qualities that stand out and when they shine through, like in upcoming seventh grader Donnie Tronson’s case, Buck nominates them to attend the Junior National Young Leadership Conference in Maryland.
“Donnie is a natural born leader,” said Buck. “People are drawn to him. I don’t take nominating a student lightly. The student must show above average ability in the classroom, be interested in student government, and the biggest factor, for me as a teacher, a student that people follow. Donnie is a leader in every sense of the word.”
Donnie flew out from Great Falls on Sunday, June 23, changing planes at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport and landing at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport before boarding a bus to his final destination for the week, the National 4-H Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Md. There he joined a few hundred other students from across the United States, including three others from Montana, to learn how to be a better and more effective leader.
“Once we got off the bus and put our stuff in our rooms we had our first leadership focus group (LFG) for about two hours,” said Donnie. “We were taught how to be better leaders, how to run a presidency, run a campaign and how to elect a president.”
Their new knowledge was then put to the test when three of the participants were chosen to run for president, Donnie being one of the three. While he didn’t win, the knowledge gained from campaigning and working with others was invaluable.
“We had to run a campaign, I was a candidate and on a team of four,” explained Donnie. “We campaigned the second and third day we were there. First place was elected president and the runner-up was vice president. A lot of the conference was government type leadership skills.”
While Donnie doesn’t plan on going into government, he greatly enjoyed the opportunity to improve upon his leadership skills and public speaking abilities, as well as meeting new people. There were approximately 20 students in each focus group and Donnie’s group had members from all across the U.S., including one other student from Montana.
“I met a lot of new people,” said Donnie. “I made new friends, we all exchanged numbers before we left so we can stay in touch.”
The next few days found Donnie and his group working on another project, this time researching and presenting a display on youth stress. Donnie shared that each group had to choose a topic, varying from youth stress to sleep to how to change the future. Each group had to create a poster board sharing what they had learned and it didn’t stop there. Not only was information needed, but each group also had to come up with their own logo and slogan for their display.
“Our poster board gave information on Internet services for overcoming youth stress and had a logo and slogan,” he said. “All the displays were split up between two rooms and presented to everyone else attending the conference. Everybody walked through and checked them out.”
The week was full of learning and hands on activities, but also visiting some historical sites, Donnie’s favorite part of the trip.
“I liked seeing the monuments best,” said Donnie. “We went to the museum in D.C., the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean Memorial, Vietnam and Martin Luther King Memorials. We also went to the Smithsonian Institute of American History.”
It was a busy week of learning, making new friends, visiting sites and public speaking. While most might find the public speaking part to be the biggest challenge, that was not it for Donnie.
“The hardest part was flying back home,” he said. “Me and another kid didn’t make our flight so they brought us back to the center and let us stay in the rooms the leaders had stayed in. The next day they got us to the plane.”
Donnie would encourage anyone who is offered this opportunity to take it, but warns that they need to be prepared to speak in front of people and interact with a lot of others that they don’t know. All in all, it was a great experience, one he is grateful for.
“This was a once in a lifetime chance, to be accepted to go, to see all these places and learn things,” concluded Donnie. “It taught me how to lead a group and talk to people better. It was a good experience and I thank Mr. Ron Buck for nominating me and my dad for making it possible for me to go.”