Leadership Mountain Brook: Not just a class

By MADOLINE MARKHAM

Leadership Mountain Brook

Kendal Jaffe, James Cooper, Robert Byrne, Caroline Bell and Kathleen McKee presented their proposal for a brick engraving fundraiser at the April City Council meeting. Photo by Hannon Davidson.

Leadership Mountain Brook isn’t just another leadership class. In its inaugural year, the program not only teaches high school students about leadership but also gives them a hands-on opportunity to be city leaders. This year’s students have created projects for the city that have been approved by both City Council and Parks and Recreation.

“They might not realize until 10 years from now how big this experience is,” said Hannon Davidson, project manager at the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce. “I learned a lot, and I grew up in Mountain Brook.”
The chamber sponsors the class, and Davidson has worked closely with the students all year.

In the fall, 16 juniors and seniors from Mountain Brook High School were selected for the yearlong program for which they received class credit. Few knew one another when they started, but over tours of city departments and group project proposals, they learned life skills and made friends. “I learned to make sure everyone is involved and work together on one idea,” Tommy Bruhn said.
The students all note how much they learned about the behind-the-scenes operations of the city and proposing real-life city projects. “It’s more complicated than I thought,” Bruhn said of the city processes. Junior Hailey McManus agreed. “I learned about all the systems you have to go through and all the people you have to talk to for a project,” she said.

The first part of the year the group learned about how the city works and completed a series of projects including making video about their favorite stores in Mountain Brook and writing stories about Christmas decorations for Village Living. Armed with this experience, they then identified needs in the community and developed project proposals to address them. Finally, they rehearsed presentations and received feedback from the city, g8four sensory research and Bill Thorton, who writes for The Birmingham News and attends Mountain Brook City meetings.

The groups worked closely with City Manager Sam Gaston, City Planner Dana Hazen and other city officials on their project proposals. “The City has been really helpful and accessible to the kids,” Davidson said. “They’ve gone above and beyond in this partnership.”

City Council approved one group’s proposal for a Leadership Mountain Brook Brick Campaign. The group plans to sell 1,000 engraved bricks to put in front of City Hall and use the proceeds to fund future Leadership Mountain Brook projects that will enhance the city. They have met with a landscape architect to match their bricks to existing brick and plan to sell the bricks through the summer. Kendal Jaffe, James Cooper, Kathleen McKee, Robert Byrne and Caroline Bell are working on this project.

“I don’t think any of us thought that we would have come up with a project this big that is actually going to happen,” James Cooper said.

Hailey McManus, Caroline Bowness, Victoria Karagas, Alex Sherman and Will Fullington proposed a dog park in Mountain Brook City Limits to the Parks and Recreation Board. The group had researched and visited other dog parks to get ideas and learn common objections to the parks to address. Parks and Recreation welcomed the proposal and is working with the group on potential property locations. The group budgeted expenses for an acre and a half park and is currently looking for partners and sponsors for the project.

L.C. Carmichael, Grace Friday, Betsy Webster, Emily Meisler and Tommy Bruhn proposed posting street signs to find Mountain Brook High School under existing signs that look the same. Recognizing the difficulty that even Mountain Brook residents have finding the school, they planned three potential routes from Crestline, Highway 280 and Overton. The city has agreed to pay for the signs, and the group is proceeding to get them printed and hung. Also part of the group’s plan is a painted logo on the road on the hill as you enter the high school campus similar to the UAB logo at Five Points South. When the group met with Principal Vic Wilson, he suggested the group involve the student body by allowing art students to paint the logo. The group is proceeding with this project as well.

Bricks, a dog park and street signs will leave a physical mark of this year’s Leadership Mountain Brook class, but no doubt the greater impact of the program will be how these 16 students lead their communities in the future.

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