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The Capitol Region Interdistrict Leadership Academy (CRILA) was started in 2004 and is a program created and operated by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) through an interdistrict grant from the Connecticut State Department of Education. The 2004-2005 CRILA group included 28 students from central Connecticut. Since the success of the first year there have been twelve more CRILA cohorts with more than 380 students having participated over the past thirteen years.

The CRILA Experience

Every year, CRILA enrolls between twenty and thirty students from the thirty-five Greater Hartford school districts in a yearlong program that begins in the students' sophomore or junior year and extends throughout the subsequent year. The Outward Bound adventure provides students with a cohesive group experience that is designed to both test and cultivate individual and group leadership skills. During the following school year, students in the Leadership Academy attend monthly class sessions in the evenings or on the weekends where they conduct a rigorous academic study of leadership.

The Outward Bound Adventure

Members of the Leadership Academy begin the program at the end of their sophomore or junior year by traveling to Maine, where students develop collaborative leadership skills by hiking, rock climbing, participating in ropes courses, and group problem solving. The Outward Bound Experience serves to build a bond amongst the members of the Academy.

The Academic Course in Leadership

During the following school year, students in the Leadership Academy attend monthly class sessions in the evenings or on the weekends where they conduct a rigorous academic study of leadership. The Academy curriculum is enriched through guest speakers from a variety of fields ranging from business to education to the military who have proven themselves to be leaders in their organizations and in their communities.

The Community Service Project

The Leadership Academy’s culminating experience is a student-created and conducted community service project designed to have a positive impact on the Greater Hartford region. Students are required to complete extensive reading in the area of leadership, write a culminating reflective paper, and participate in the student-created community service project. For example, the 2009-2010 CRILA cohort was dedicated to increasing awareness about homelessness and to raising money for Habitat for Humanity. The students held various fundraisers at their schools and created a cardboard box city. The students partnered with The Shoppes at Farmington Valley in Canton, CT for the event. Students camped out over night in their cardboard boxes and during the day solicited donations from the community. For their efforts, the students were able to provide support to Hartford's local chapter of Habitat for Humanity in the amount of $2,597.29. In 2011-2012, CRILA 8 were dedicated to paying forward their Outward Bound experience. They raised money to bring 55 fourth graders from the University of Hartford Magnet School to Camp Sloper in Southington for a day of fun and learning. The CRILA students served as the facilitators for the day. They broke the students up into small groups and ran team building activities and group challenges. The fourth graders had a fantastic time and the CRILA students made sure to fill the day with lessons about leadership, teamwork, and service.

The Benefit to Students

In exchange for their efforts, students receive Honors elective credit for the course, the trip to Maine at no cost, and an unparalleled opportunity to work with student and community leaders from the Greater Hartford region on meaningful projects.

Student Reflections on the CRILA Experience

“I am very proud of what this group has accomplished, both individually and as a whole. In accepting my invitation to be a part of CRILA 8 last April, I had high hopes for this opportunity. I was hoping to gain confidence, build relationships, and act on my idealistic goals. And I hoped to expand my comfort zone and learn from the 29 other CRILA members. Looking back, I exceeded my expectation in all of those areas. My comfort zone has expanded its radius exponentially; I have built relationships that I’m certain will last me a lifetime; I have been able to chase after my dreams; my confidence has boosted significantly; and my understanding of others has helped shape me into a the type of leader I never thought I could be. In writing to myself at the beginning of the Leadership Academy, I didn’t quite get it. I didn’t quite understand the extent to which this program would mold me into the leader I now am. I sincerely believe I’m a better person because of CRILA, and I can honestly say I see the world from so many more perspectives than I did, which will allow me to continue to grow. After this long, amazing journey, the big question is where do I go from here?”
- CRILA 8 Student

“From here, I will never stop improving myself. The biggest life lesson I have gotten out of being a member of CRILA 8 is that there is always room for improvement. Leaders never stop asking what they can do better, what they should not do next time, or what they can continue doing. I will make sure to always improve and be a leader filled with genuine goodness. ”
- CRILA 8 Student

“I definitely will miss CRILA. It was a never-ending journey filled with surprises and discoveries. My number one obligation to myself is to be satisfied with the person I am and not to second-guess the body, mind, heart, and soul God gave me. They are all gifts that make me, me. It is my responsibility to use those gifts to acquire skills and perspectives to achieve the goals I set before myself and most importantly lead others. To be more specific, I really and truly hope to be a role model for others. I want other students to see that they have the potential to be a model student as well. Not out of jealousy or pressure from their parents, but because they genuinely want to. I’m not just going to be a role model for the one year I have left in high school, but for the many years I have left in my life. I want to keep growing and accomplishing any goal I set my eyes on, and never stop.”
- CRILA 8 Student

“I feel that CRILA has helped me thoroughly understand myself and those around me. After I got home, I was immediately aware of what my biggest weakness was. My weakness wasn’t that I couldn’t climb the mountain while hiking or reach the top of the cliff while rock climbing, my weakness was that I didn’t believe I could do any of those activities. I didn’t believe that I had any potential at all, but with the encouragement of my advisors and my fellow CRILA members, I realized my potential.”
- CRILA 8 Student

“I worked with kids from different towns all over Connecticut that, though quite uniform in standards, varied a lot from my small town of Simsbury. This aspect of the program certainly brought different perspectives and helped diversify what would be just a group of 30 high school kids. Looking around the room during our last meeting as CRILA 8, I reflected on each person that I had shared this wonderful experience with. I thought about how I had seen, with my own eyes, them growing into leaders. ”
- CRILA 8 Student

“I have learned so much in the past year. Applying for and entering CRILA 8 was the most fulfilling decision I have made in my short life; the leadership and life lessons I’ve learned are priceless. Through understanding myself, I’ve begun to understand others. Each physical, emotional, and psychological challenge has been worth it, and I do not regret a moment.”
- CRILA 8 Student

“CRILA has taught me lessons about life and leadership that I will always carry with me, and I am thankful for that. I have felt the joy of giving in service to others, the anguish that sets in after recognizing a false peak and the rush of joy upon reaching a true one, the fundamental worth of a little fresh air, and the extravagance of simplicity. I intend to continue to enjoy these true facts of life for the rest of my own.”
- CRILA 7 Student

“Looking back, I realize that applying to be in the CRILA class is the single most significant choice of have made in my short life thus far. It took the past me and has transformed him into a much happier member of society ready to implement his new leadership skills into his daily life. I was blessed with the chance to meet so many great friends and mentors and because of this, I am personally obligated to prove that the past year was not time wasted for any of us. Using my new skills, I hope to give back to my community in an entirely new way.”
- CRILA 7 Student

“One specific activity that burns the most in my memory is an activity we did as a CRILA unit. We all began in a line in the dining hall. Questions regarding demographics, religion, sexual orientation/preferences, social standing, financial wealth, etc. were asked to us. If it was applicable or had happened to us as individuals and depending on the question, we took a step either forward or backward. That activity burned itself in my memory so deeply because I was unaccustomed to being in such a diverse group of people. Perhaps it is not so much the diversity of our group that stuck with me, but the fact that to the majority I will never know exactly what questions my fellow CRILA members answered to end up where they were standing—and that is alright, because it does not matter to me where my friends came from, it matters that they are with me.”
- CRILA 7 Student

“My experience through CRILA has opened my life to new opportunities. Leadership has been and always will play a critical role in my life. I will learn how to become a better leader everyday with each new experience. My biggest accomplishment though the program was really getting to understand myself. This understanding made it so much easier to communicate to the rest of my peers. Leadership is not just leading your peers but rather helping them through and learning at the same time. You must be understanding and have the courage to follow through with your dreams.”
- CRILA 7 Student

“Over the past year, I have learned much about myself, but most importantly, I have admitted that I am uncomfortable with failure. While away, I was given time to reflect upon my thoughts. During my solo night, I immediately thought about my failures rather than my accomplishments. I thought about what I do with my free time at home and realized that I rarely give myself time to think in silence. My mind is constantly bombarded with thoughts about school, family, and friends. If I have free time to relax, I usually fill the empty space with music or television. When given this silent time to think during the trip, I realized that I cannot easily forget about my failures. Thus, when I returned to Connecticut, I began implementing time to reflect upon myself during the week. I stopped listening to music during my distance runs and used the time to think about my successes and what I have learned from my failures. Rather than think about how disappointing my failures are, I have learned to only remember the lessons I have gained from them. I can confidently say that my experience in CRILA has been both rewarding and unforgettable. It has provided me with the opportunity to reflect upon myself and leadership style, something I never would have done on my own. Whenever I meet a roadblock I think to myself, I climbed Mt. Galena; I can do anything. ”
- CRILA 7 Student

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