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Leadership confab in D.C. eye-opening experience for local girl

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photo courtesy of Maribel Estrada
   Standing in front of the White House is 11-year-old Maribel Estrada, who enters the seventh grade at Sierra Vista Middle School this fall.

It's not every day that a student just entering the seventh grade has the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to attend a leadership conference.

For Maribel Estrada, who will enter the seventh grade at Sierra Vista Middle School in just a few weeks, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

She attended the Junior National Leadership Conference Aug. 6-11.

The opportunity, Estrada said, would not have been possible without the support of the community.

"Sunnyside community members really helped," said Estrada.

As an English Language Learner taught by Isabel Castro, the youngster would not have envisioned such a trip a year ago.

Her progress at Sierra Vista Middle School over the past school year led to Castro's support of the youngster.

The duo held fundraisers this summer to pay for the trip, but Castro said it was a story published in the Daily Sun News that helped boost the effort.

"We needed $1,200 when the story was published only a couple of weeks prior to the trip," she said.

The community provided that money, giving Castro the funds needed to travel with the youngster, as well as spending money for Estrada to purchase souvenirs.

She spent the week learning six leadership skills. They included communication, respect, goal setting, character, teamwork and problem solving.

Estrada said the days were spent divided into six focus groups, consisting of 15 students from across the U.S. Her group included students from as far south as Texas, students from New Jersey and students from the western U.S. like California.

They stayed at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center while in the nation's capital.

"We slept there and our classes were in conference rooms named after the states," said Estrada.

She said the focus groups learned how to develop the six leadership skills via projects and debates.

"There was a simulated debate about the freedom of speech and the question as to if we would wear a peace patch," said Estrada, explaining students had to debate the merits of wearing a patch designed with the peace symbol on it.

Through the debate, she said students learned the value of respecting the opinions of others, as well as communication.

It wasn't all work and no play during the lengthy days, said Estrada.

She said the students visited several historical sites surrounding Washington, D.C. They visited the White House, the nation's capitol building, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the Smithsonian's newspaper museum, the Lincoln Memorial, the American History Museum, the Korean War Memorial, the Library of Congress and the Maryland Science Center.

"We were learning strong leadership skills, but we learned a lot about history," said Estrada, stating she was particularly impressed by architectural elements and the fresco inside the capitol building.

"I liked the statues of the presidents and historical figures from each state, too," said Estrada.

"It was a great way to learn about American history," she said, stating she was enthralled with the history associated with Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. There, Estrada learned about the lives of U.S. soldiers who fought during the Civil War.

"It was difficult and there were many hardships," she said.

"This was a great experience...one I will always remember," said the youngster.

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