As a reward for displaying top-notch performance, hundreds of exceptional middle school students from all over the United States and even other countries will descend upon Washington, D.C., next spring for the annual Junior National Youth Leadership Conference (JrNYLC).
One will come from Texas County.
Earning the right to participate in the 2011 version of the conference is sixth-grader Lewis Miller of Raymondville.
The JrNYLC accepts outstanding sixth and seventh grade students who demonstrate maturity, academic excellence and leadership potential and post test scores in the top-five percentile range. Students are nominated to attend by teachers and mentors within their community.
The JrNYLC website says attendees are offered “the opportunity to learn about leadership by studying the leaders of the past and by focusing on social advocacy to make a positive impact in their homes and communities.” The conference is sponsored by the Congressional Youth Leadership Council, a nonpartisan, educational organization founded in 1985 and located in Vienna, Va., just outside Washington, D.C.
While there, Miller and his fellow “scholars” will visit many monuments and other area landmarks like the Smithsonian Institution and Harpers Ferry, W.V., but will also attend daily classes to learn leadership skills.
“I think this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Miller said. “I’ve never been to Washington, D.C., before and I was pretty surprised when I got the letter.
“I feel really good about it.”
The JrNYLC curriculum was developed by Dr. Marguerite Regan, a former high school teacher and social science department chairperson with a doctorate in political science from Purdue University.
Miller was nominated for the conference by Raymondville middle school teacher Cathy Elledge.
“He shows good leadership,” Elledge said, “and he works really, really hard to keep his grades up. He helps others when he can and he’s just an overall good kid.”
The JrNYLC features nine six-day sessions that take place in March and April. Miller will be at session from April 9-14.
Unfortunately, many students who are nominated for the conference don’t get to attend. A tuition fee of $1,800 combined with a week’s worth of expenses, travel cost and the six days eliminate many names from its attendee list.
Miller’s parents, Lewis and Sara Miller of Raymondville, have decided to cover the cost of getting the younger Lewis to and from D.C. and his expenses while there. But Sara said the task of gathering funds for the conference’s hefty tuition and making sure it’s paid by the Dec. 3 due date will be up to Lewis, Jr. He’ll ask for donations by sending letters to and talking face-to-face with friends, relatives and local businesses. He plans to conduct a bake sale this Saturday at 9 a.m. in front of Town and Country Supermarket in Houston.
“That will give him the chance to talk in front of people even before he goes to the conference,” she said. “An important part of leadership is having the ability to do things like that without being shy about it.”
His parents plan to accompany Miller on the trip east, but they won’t be with him during his six-day adventure, with perhaps the exception of a dinner on a chosen night. Conference attendees are supervised 24 hours a day in a system that features a 17-1 student-to-staff ratio.
“That helps them get away from mom and dad and get used to being independent,” Sara said.
During his conference week, Lewis will stay five nights at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Md., and one night at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore. All JrNYLC attendees stay a night at the science center and pass time by participating in many activities.
The whole week’s agenda should suit Miller well.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing all the exhibits,” Miller said. “I love science and history.”
Raymondville school superintendent Charlie Malam said Miller is deserving of his nomination.
“If I had to pick a student at his grade level, he would be one I would pick,” Malam said. “I can’t think of a better representative of Raymondville. He’s just a model student.”