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Tomorrow’s Leaders: Hale-B.O.P.P. Comets

Few would argue that Hale County could always benefit from more homegrown leadership and more racial harmony. One organization, the Hale-B.O.P.P. Comets, is doing what it can to see that future Hale County residents provide more of both.

The Hale-B.O.P.P. Comets are a collection of 24 high-school juniors selected annually from throughout Hale’s six high schools to become, as the acronym suggests, “Builders Of Positive Partnerships.” The Comets meet on a monthly basis for workshops, teamwork-building trips across the state, and an annual service project, all with the goal of helping develop the next generation of Hale County leaders.

“We try to foster a sense of teamwork and leadership with the Comets,” says Hale-B.O.P.P. assistant sponsor Brenda Ryan, a member of the Hale County school board. “Our goal is to give them skills that they can take with them the rest of their lives.”

But Ryan and Julia Williams, Hale-B.O.P.P. sponsor, hope that all of Hale County, rather than just the Comets, become the beneficiaries of the work the organization does.

“We’re trying to put a halt to what they call the ‘brain drain,’ where our kids graduate from college and don’t return for their careers,” Williams says. “We just want them to come back to us.”

In their efforts to get the Comets more involved with the community, each year Hale-B.O.P.P. performs a community service project. Over three Wednesdays this February, every 3rd-grader in the county was paid a visit by the Comets.

“We did an art project with the kids based on the concept of the hero,” said Ryan. “We asked the children to name their hero, and then draw and decorate either a self-portrait or a portrait of their hero. The idea was for the kids to get used to seeing themselves and the people around them in a positive way, to start thinking of themselves and other people in their everyday lives as heroes. Some kids drew either their mother or teacher as their hero.”

“This project we had this year, especially, tied into the goals of Hale-B.O.P.P.,” Ryan added. “We want the elementary kids, too, to begin to see themselves as leaders. It was great training for the Comets also, to have to be articulate and communicate with each other and the children…it’s a win-win situation.”

The teachers involved agreed it was a “win” for their students as well, as well.

“We are very thankful for the Comets’ visit,” said Greensboro West Elementary 3rd-grade teacher Brenda Teacher, whose class worked with Comets from Sunshine and Greensboro West high schools. Akron and Hale County High Comets visited other schools together, as did Comets from Southern Academy and Greensboro East.

“The kids really enjoyed it,” Teacher said. “They didn’t just draw a picture of their hero, but had to say what they admired about that person. We thought that was very beneficial.”

The classroom visits represented the culmination of a long preparation process for the Comets, which included multiple meetings, training workshops with an art teacher, and participating in the portrait project themselves.

“The Comets gained a new appreciation for their teachers,” Ryan laughs. “They had to learn that not every child works at the same pace, that you don’t give out all the supplies immediately if you want to keep their attention…they said later, ‘We had no idea this would be so demanding!'”

Williams said that while the Comets’ empathy for their teachers is a happy fringe benefit from this year’s service project, she has been delighted to find that empathy for the Comets’ peers of a different race has become a major positive for the program over its six years of existence.

“Since the program has been going this long its focus has changed somewhat,” Williams says. “Students tell us that means the most to them is being able to meet people and have friends of another race. Hale has six high schools, and four of them are basically single-race schools. Their students often don’t get the opportunity to realize what they’re missing…We bring together students from all schools, from both races, and ask them to work together, build a team, and become friends. We’re trying to bridge that gap.”

Williams says that the program’s focus on bettering Hale County makes racial harmony a natural goal for Hale-B.O.P.P. to actively pursue.

“It’s important in building a good community,” she says. “If we can help build that kind of appreciation for diversity, then surely our county will be better for it. This is not where we started, but it’s where we’ve been led.”

Although Williams says Hale-B.O.P.P. is still too new to accurately gauge if it’s having success at keeping Hale’s graduates at home, early returns are encouraging.

“We can’t measure it yet,” she said, “but we’ve had responses where Comets says they want to teach in Greensboro, and one wrote back to say ‘My dream is to have my own community drug store in Greensboro’…we’re having an impact.”