Ryan McNutt plays football at South Aiken High School and is involved in other programs. Yet he wanted something more and joined the new Leadership Group on campus.

“I wanted to become a better leader and really help out our community and South Aiken,” he said.

About 25 students from grades ninth through 12th have joined the program – led by English teacher Megan Scholer and Naval Junior ROTC Cmdr. Larry Laughlin.

A lot of great changes can come from students, who are one of the school's biggest resources, Scholer said. “Our students want the opportunity to impact their school,” she said.

Laughlin said Principal Bryan Skipper had suggested the creation of a leadership advisory program for students. The classes are shaped in large part through the books of Dr. David Vik, who emphasizes how the culture in any organization can change for the better.

DaNasha Parker, a freshman, joined the school's Girls Against Bullying program. She could see incidents happen, and “I didn't know what to do,” she said. “I want to become a better leader and work to help others.”

That motivates Shelby Cameron and DaNasha's brother, DaZhawn Parker. Both want to make a difference, too. McNutt said the club can become a great unifying project. Too many students are being left behind, and “we want them to know they are not alone,” he said.

“This is beyond exciting,” Laughlin said. “There aren't many high schools trying to do this.”

Cameron, McNutt and DeZhawn are juniors and are grateful to work with the organization for another year. McNutt is becoming more comfortable when he talks in front of his peers.

“Your hardest critics will be your peers,” McNutt said. “I'm learning how to listen to them and to better myself. It's a really great experience.”

Such efforts don't work overnight, Scholer said. Yet as the students decide on the most promising campus projects to introduce, they can look at them with more realistic eyes to come up with good solutions, she said.

“It can take one motivated person who can be encouraging and change the environment,” Scholer said.

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.