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Tahoe Valley officials have high hopes for leadership program

William Ferchland
Nevada Appeal News Service
Jim Grant/Nevada Appeal News Service Tahoe Valley Elementary student Jessica Pak directs a group discussion during a leadership class.
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – Perhaps a future president of the United States is attending Tahoe Valley Elementary eating Doritos while absorbing lessons on character.

Dozens of students at the Lake Tahoe Unified School District elementary sacrifice part of their lunch time to volunteer in a leadership program that has promoted recycling, raised money by selling daffodils, and reaffirmed good test-taking skills.

“It is an extracurricular activity that is good for you and helps you be a better person,” fourth-grader Chas Carlson said.

“We’re not only doing activities for the school, but we’re teaching them what leadership skills are all about,” said Principal Mark Romagnolo.

Plans for next year involve service-learning projects for each class or grade level and instituting character-building traits for all students, Romagnolo said.

In addition, Paths for Success, a form of the Advancement Via Individual Determination program is threaded throughout the upper grades at Tahoe Valley. Romagnolo, who is familiar with the program from his days as principal of Sierra House Elementary School, is hoping to put portions of the program into all of the school’s grade levels.

Superintendent Jim Tarwater has mentioned developing the district’s elementary sites into magnet schools, which are public school that focus on a specific subject, after resurrecting Meyers Elementary into the Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School.

Part of a magnet school’s obligation is free bus transportation to all students. Tarwater said that with high gas prices, the motivation to turn the district’s elementary schools into magnet sites has stalled. Open enrollment, in which parents can pick which elementary school their child attends, helps alleviate those concerns, he said.

“We would like to encourage (school strengths). That’s why we’re doing open enrollment now and we’ll continue with open enrollment throughout the summer so parents, if they want to make a switch, they can,” Tarwater said.

Besides Tahoe Valley, the district has two other elementary sites in Bijou Community and Sierra House.

“With open enrollment, I think it’s great for families to know what strengths each elementary school has and each school has strengths and special programs,” said board of education President Wendy David, citing language opportunities at Bijou Community and arts at Sierra House.

Tahoe Valley has 37 fourth- and fifth-graders who volunteer their time to be in a leadership class overseen by Laura Curatolo with help from parent Nancy Fagen. It was started by last year by Stacy Hembree.

“I think it explicitly teaches them skills that will help them throughout life,” Curatolo said.

The “class” meets weekly during lunch hour, more if students are in the midst of a project. Past work includes giving gift baskets to seniors at Tahoe Manor and attending a ropes course in Woodland to help build teamwork and other attributes.