Two Whitehall-Yearling High School students were among the 140 students from throughout Ohio who attended a five-day Ohio Association of Student Councils camp at Capital University in Bexley.

"The speakers were engaging, (and) I learned a lot that will help me," said Leslie Mensah, a 15-year-old rising junior at Whitehall-Yearling and a member of student council.

Whitehall-Yearling student Kyland Wooden also attended the camp, which was held July 7-11.

It's the second summer WYHS students have participated in the camp. Last year, three Whitehall students attended.

Anthony Paletta, a teacher at Whitehall-Yearling, said he hopes to send more in the future, including camps at times and venues other than at Capital University, and to include students from Rosemore Middle School.

Other camps include those at Cedar Point in October and a fall retreat at the YMCA's Camp Wilson in November, Paletta said.

Youngstown State University, Ohio University and Marietta College also play host to events.

The camps, according to the association's website, are designed to encourage the development of leadership skills, help students set and meet worthy goals and inspire young leaders to accept challenges and responsibilities.

Staff members of the organization and others invited speakers -- including Whitehall-Yearling High School principal Paul Smathers -- to work with students throughout the week at Capital.

"Each day is a different theme," said Mensah.

"Be Yourself" was one such theme, highlighted by a speaker who recounted achieving success and contentment only after choosing to be herself rather than acting differently to suit others, Mensah said.

"Our programs are meant to help kids discover things inside of them they might not have even known were there (and) to help them become the best versions of themselves as possible," said Kaitlin O'Hara, the senior high coordinator for the organization that in March voted to change its name to the Ohio Association of Student Leaders, effective Jan. 1, 2020.

Founded in 1953, the Ohio Association of Student Councils is in a transition period, O'Hara said.

"We were limiting ourselves to only those students who are members of student councils (when) there are so many other opportunities for leadership," such as National Honor Society and organized sports, said O'Hara, a 10-year teacher in the South-Western City School District.

As the Ohio Association of Student Leaders, eligibility no longer will be limited to student council membership.

"My students who have attended (events) said it has built their confidence and empowered them," O'Hara said.

Paletta is a middle level coordinator for the nonprofit organization as well as its community and business recruiter.

He was a student in the Ohio Association of Student Councils when he was in the seventh grade in Parma schools near Cleveland.

"I want students in Whitehall to go through this program to make them feel empowered to make their school and community a better place, but also graduate high school and pursue their goals and network with a diverse group of people from all over the state," Paletta said.

"This is the second summer I was able to send Whitehall students and I have been sending them to weekend events throughout the school year," said Paletta, who has raised more than $3,500 during the past two years to fund students' attendance at events at minimal cost to each student.

Local State Farm Insurance agencies and other corporations, businesses and individuals have donated money to help provide scholarships to students to help cover the $300 cost, Paletta said.

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