When some third-grade girls at Kenwood Leadership Academy and Magnet School dressed as men for a Dress for Success day, Elizabeth Callahan knew she had to do something.
Callahan’s idea, pairing girls with successful women over lunch, came to fruition Tuesday and Thursday at the Early Bird Cafe in downtown Cedar Rapids. About a dozen third and fifth-graders ate lunch and talked about leadership and their future with women who are business owners or hold positions of leadership.
“When I first had the idea, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Callahan, a third-grade teacher at Kenwood, which is the only leadership academy in the Cedar Rapids Community School District.
“I contacted Lindsey Leahy with the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and she put me in touch with Deb Worm at F&M Bank. Deb took it from there.”
Worm sent out an email asking women business leaders in the community if they would be interested in meeting with young female students over lunch to discuss how they became leaders.
“Within minutes, my inbox began to fill up with positive responses from about 80 women,” Worm said.
“We had such an overwhelming response that we had to split it into two separate days.”
Kenwood Leadership Academy weaves lessons about effective leadership with regular coursework.
“The girls brought their ‘leader binders’ that every student at Kenwood maintains,” Callahan said. “They create the binder and add everything they do throughout the year, such as luncheons and field trips. They add reflections of how they are as leaders and things about their leadership role.”
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Alissa Gardner, owner of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Corridor in Cedar Rapids, said the idea of empowering young women through firsthand examples appealed to her.
“We just want to give these girls some real ‘in the flesh’ women leaders who they can look up to,” Gardner said. “It doesn’t matter if they are in third grade. It’s all about feeding into the next generation of leaders.”
Third-grader Avery LaGrange, 8, had a lively discussion with Stacy Cataldo, head of school at Cedar Valley Montessori School in Cedar Rapids.
“I learned that I need to be confident in myself as a young woman so I can do anything that I want,” said LaGrange, who wants to go to the University of Iowa and become a nurse like her mother.
“I like meeting new people and I want to help them.”
Cataldo was impressed with LaGrange.
“She’s a very accomplished young lady for third grade,” Cataldo said.
For Kaly Etten, who has three daughters, the opportunity to meet and encourage young girls who want to learn leadership skills was important.
“It’s wonderful to see that there are programs like this,” said Etten, talent acquisition-senior university relations leader and K-12 programs manager at Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids.
Etten was paired with Addison Mitchell, a fifth-grader at Kenwood, who shared that the leadership academy will help her to reach her full potential.
“To hear someone her age talk about that is pretty awesome,” Etten said. “Hopefully she will eventually say, ‘I met these different people along the way and they showed me what leadership looks like.’”
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Mitchell enjoyed meeting with Etten. She has set her sights on becoming either a teacher or a veterinarian.
David Brandon, principal of Kenwood Leadership Academy, praised Callahan’s initiative that led to the events this week.
“We are all about student leadership at Kenwood, but we’re also about teaching leadership,” Brandon said. “For Liz to send an email to the Metro Economic Alliance and get all this rolling shows that she is empowered and passionate about it. I fully support the program and what it hopes to accomplish.”