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Sanford Junior Learns Life Lessons at Leadership Summit

Perceptions. Tolerance. Diversity. Inclusion. Acceptance. These words and the meaning behind them were not new to Katie Zabel '21. She has learned about them and discussed them at home and at school, but it was not until Zabel attended a special three-day event, the National Student Leadership Summit (NSLS) sponsored by the National Federation of State High Schools Association (NFHS), that she actually lived them, thus elevating her understanding and awareness of their power to change lives.
From July 22–24 Zabel was in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she joined 130 high school students from across the country for an intensive, and very enlightening, experience. Six students from Delaware were selected to represent the state at the summit. As a rising junior, Zabel was one of the younger participants and the only ambassador from a Delaware independent school.

Zabel participated in four break-out sessions where she was forced to face her personal perceptions, own up to them, and discover the uncomfortable feelings she felt as a result of this deeply personal sharing. “I really had to learn to get in touch with my own biases, and understand that it really is not easy to stand up for personal beliefs when that means going against the mindset of the crowd. We learned that leaders must help move people out of their comfort level; but before we can do that, we have start by pushing ourselves,” explained Zabel.

Zabel’s journey to Indianapolis started with an application she completed for the Delaware State Leadership Conference, which she attended in Lewes after the NSLS along with Sanford junior Jason Lamey '21, from August 4–6. Based on that application, she was also selected by the NFHS to attend the national summit. Zabel elaborated: “I had no idea when I started this with Mrs. Samonisky that I would ever have such a life-changing experience. Even my mom noticed that I came home different—more confident, more personally content, happier, and eager to share what I have learned with others.”

While Zabel enjoyed all of the small group sessions, she especially appreciated the opportunity to spend a day working at a Special Olympics event. The conference attendees were put into small groups and worked with special needs children and adults from the Indianapolis area. “I liked having the chance to apply the concepts we had been discussing in conference rooms in a real-life situation,” said Zabel. “I had no idea how many people have physical and mental differences that require special assistance. But as we played games and ran relays, I realized that they, like most of us, are just a group of wonderful, nice people. The label of ‘special needs’ wore off very quickly as a result of our interactions.”

Zabel shared that she has been thinking a lot about how to best incorporate her new-found enthusiasm and commitment to being inclusive and accepting of differences into both her personal and school worlds. “I have learned both life skills and leadership skills at Sanford and deepened my understanding and awareness of them from my time in Indianapolis. It has been truly eye-opening to realize that my actions and words can either include or exclude others. I will now be more conscious about being inclusive. As a leader, and as a human being, I have learned that small things can bring a big change—even if it is only to one person.”

As a member of the field hockey, track, and lacrosse teams, Zabel will use her leadership skills and heightened awareness to affect positive change on and off the fields. Additionally, Zabel is one of the coordinators of the Student Activities Club, with events like pep rallies, Homecoming, and Field Day on their agenda. She is a member of the B+ Club and is also a student ambassador. All of these will provide opportunities for Zabel to work to insure a sense of inclusiveness and acceptance across the spectrum of Sanford’s student body. “As a member of these teams and clubs, I will have the chance to put words into action, and I am very much looking forward to the opportunity to do so,” concluded Zabel.

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