Mel Johnson, a geography teacher, is pictured at her desk at Coronado High School
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Mel Johnson, a geography teacher, is pictured at her desk at Coronado High School. As a trip leader for Global Leadership, she’s planning a trip for local students to Guatemala as part of the organization’s leadership training program.

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Mel Johnson is passionate about the Global Leaders program.

“The great benefit is in its generosity,” she said, describing the leadership training and service-to-others program. “In serving, we become our most true selves.”

Johnson, a geography teacher at Coronado High School and a resident of the Broadmoor Bluffs neighborhood, is making plans to lead a group of about 30 high school students on a two-week trip to San Miguel Escobar, Guatemala, as part of the Global Leaders program. There, they will immerse themselves in the local culture and Spanish language while participating in service projects.

But the trip won’t happen until the spring of next year. In the meantime, the focus will be on the Colorado Springs community. The agenda calls for recruiting, fundraising, identifying community service projects for the students, public presentations and attending leadership seminars.

“Right now, I’m focusing mostly on getting the word out to students in the Coronado and Cheyenne Mountain areas, but I’ve had inquiries from students at other schools,” Johnson said.

Global Leaders was founded in 1997 by Joe Fontana, a teacher/administrator at Poudre High School in Fort Collins and the organization’s executive director. That year, 15 students embarked on a trip to Costa Rica and Guatemala on a cultural exchange, and the program’s basic model was established. Since then, more than 750 students have completed over 30,000 hours of service-learning in their communities.

At the heart of the nonprofit organization is a strong focus on leadership skills.

“We believe all students should have the opportunity to develop their leadership skills,” reads the Global Leaders’ “Our Values” statement in a brochure describing the program. Before embarking on the Guatemalan trip, each student will have participated in at least 60 hours of service and leadership training with an emphasis on developing service skills and confidence.

Another theme central to the program is the concept of “granito,” grain of sand, which maintains that every action, no matter how small, matters. “We empower our students to act in service with intention and integrity,” the GL values statement reads.

Once in San Miguel Escobar, students will have the opportunity to serve on a variety of service programs. Past projects have included helping to construct schools, involvement in a forest reforestation project, contacting patients at a local hospital, working on a coffee farm, and helping co-teach English classes. They’ll also study Guatemalan history, economy and politics.

“It’s an experience that can open our eyes to gratitude,” Johnson said. “You realize that not everyone has the opportunities we have here, and you develop an attitude of gratitude.”

Host families are pre-selected by Global Leaders’ fulltime staff in Guatemala. All the families — many of whom have been working with Global Leaders for years — have training and experience hosting foreign students.

The cost of the program is estimated to be about $2,900 per student, not including airfare. Scholarships and financial aid programs are available as are fundraising opportunities.

The fee includes, among other things:

• an eight-month pre-trip curriculum;

• transportation, food and lodging in Guatemala;

• financial coverage of all activities including entrance fees and language lessons;

• travel medical insurance; and

• internship and leadership opportunities.

Global Leaders organizers emphasize that socio-economic status should not prevent students from joining the program. Students are eligible for a combination of subsidized intern hours at $15 per hour and a flexible monthly payment plan based on a sliding scale.

“We will work with your family to develop a financial aid plan,” the organization’s brochure states.

In the coming months, Johnson plans to continue getting the word out about Global Leaders. In August, she and the students plan to make a presentation to parents and community leaders. Local service and leadership seminars are scheduled to begin September.

She believes that students who participate in the inaugural Colorado Springs program will someday look back on it and appreciate the opportunity.

“It’s exciting anytime that you can say, ‘I started that, I was part of that,’” she said.

Information and more details about the Global Leaders program can be found at glcoca.org.

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