BROOKSVILLE — Students from five high schools gathered in a Pasco-Hernando Community College classroom, waiting to hear about what they would be expected to do in the latest segment of Teen Leadership Hernando. This was Simulated Society Day. Session Five.
The 21 students from Nature Coast Technical, Hernando, Central and Springstead high schools and West Hernando Christian Academy, were selected by their school's leaders to participate in the program that gives them an overview of life in Hernando County.
Teen Leadership Hernando was started by the Leadership Hernando Class of 1995, a program for residents interested in learning about their county. The pilot year for students was 1996/97 and the program has continued, though not every year.
Hernando County Sheriff's Office Chief Royce Decker is a Leadership Hernando graduate and has been the coordinator for several years. The students attend 13 sessions throughout the school year, going to one every two weeks. The high schools' career specialists take turns accompanying the students.
Barbara Jensen, Springstead High's career specialist, was at the most recent session and explained how the schools choose the students who participate. "We look for students with leadership potential and students who will hopefully become the leaders of Hernando County," she said. "Our fervent hope is that after college, they'll come back here and make Hernando County a better place."
Brenda Frazier, Hernando County relations coordinator, agreed. The program as a whole teaches them about the community, she explained. "I think it's about opening their eyes about why Hernando is a good place to live and how they can contribute to the society."
At the Simulated Society Day, the students were divided into three groups, given varied resources and opportunities to make money, interact and practice working with or against each other. They got a taste of working within limitations and dealing with other people who may have different values. "The whole idea of the day is to give them an idea of what it's like out there in the real world," Frazier said.
The first Teen Leadership session was an introduction and orientation. There was a public safety day at the Sheriff's Office. The students visited the Hernando County Courthouse for Government Day. They met at the Airport Industrial Park for Business Day and toured businesses.
Education Day was spent at Pasco-Hernando Community College and on Law Day, they were back in the courthouse to see cases being tried and to participate in a simulated case.
Upcoming sessions will be Environmental Day, Youth Services Day, Non-Profit Day, Finance Day and Health Day. The program will end in March with a graduation.
Nature Coast Technical High senior Jen Marshall, 18, told why she agreed to participate in the program. "I thought it'd be something fun. I've learned a lot about Hernando County that I didn't know," she said. Jen plans to attend Presbyterian College in South Carolina to study graphic design.
Michelle Venezia, 17, a Central High senior, said she has learned "that's there's a lot of career opportunities in Hernando County." Michelle is running for National DECA president and, if she wins, will have office duties to perform for a year before going to the University of Central Florida. She has no plans to return to Hernando County to work "My career involves bigger places," she said. "Bigger cities."
Alex Knapp, 17, a Hernando High senior, appreciated the opportunity he has had to meet a lot of people. "It's cool to meet people from other schools and it turns out they're just the same," he said. Alex hopes to attend Florida State University to study criminology or political science. "I want to be a lawyer," he said.
Michael Hogeland, 17, a Springstead High senior, said he has learned to work with students he barely knows and found out quite a bit about his county. "I learned about the police system and the government that we have in Hernando County," he said.
And perhaps he will return, after attending the University of Tampa or the University of South Florida to study business. He said he would like to "maybe have a small business in Hernando County."