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West Ada teacher develops young leaders through an empowering camp

Nerissa Armstrong created the Meridian Middle School Ambassadors Leadership Camp to help kids discover what they really have inside themselves.

It's end of semester review day in Nerissa Armstrong's seventh-grade World Civilizations class at Meridian Middle School.   

She fires off questions, such as "Who started the Protestant Reformation?"  and "Who is Leonardo Da Vinci?"

Then she flings candy to kids who get the correct answer. Smarties, of course. 

"It all works together," Armstrong said.    

By the way, Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation, and Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa, among many other things.  

It's a high-energy class.

"Some might say chaos," Armstrong says, laughing.   

Armstrong has a strong arm and a concrete commitment to her students.  

"When my kids come in my classroom I want them to feel welcomed and loved," Armstrong said.

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Awhile back she was tossing around another idea; something special for the kids beyond the bounds of the building. 

Armstrong created the Meridian Middle School Ambassadors Leadership Camp, with a lot of help from the principal and others.  

"We try to choose a mixture of the kids that stand out as natural leaders and the kids that have so much potential to be leaders if they just get those experiences," Armstrong said.   

So far, over the last three years three different sets of about 30 students have headed up to the YMCA Camp at Horsethief Reservoir in Valley County. 

"For a lot of our kids it's the first time they've ever seen a campfire," Armstrong said.   

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Yes, there are campfire sing-alongs and s'mores and rope courses and swings, but Armstrong and a dozen other school staffers also guide the kids through leadership activities dealing with empathy, communication and trust.  

"They deserve this opportunity to see themselves as the leaders we see them as," Armstrong said.   

It's working.  

"I think that everybody can be a leader in their own way," camper Luna Quintero said.   

"It made me feel more confident about myself," camper Nicol Rey said.

"At first I was like all shy and stuff, but then after that, I became less shy and got to know more people like when I came back," camper Oscar Gutierrez said. 

"When you watch these kids at camp and you see them afterward, it's just the best thing ever. It's the best thing ever," Armstrong said.

Exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.  

"I always spend the whole afternoon that I get back crying with joy because it's such a wonderful experience," Armstrong said.

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Armstrong says many of the parents can't afford to send their kids to a camp like this, but she believes it's so important that the kids get this opportunity. So they do fundraisers and apply for grants to make it happen for as many kids as possible.  

She's determined to give more students a wonderful experience beyond the bounds of the building next year. 

"I'm not letting this go. We are not letting this go," Armstrong said. "I love these kids! I love having an impact on these kids' lives."  

If you would like to nominate a teacher as an Innovative Educator, you can email us at innovativeeducator@ktvb.com.

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