Kaylena Smith of Cherokee is shown in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. She was among nearly 175 youths invited to a leadership conference July 5-10 in the nation's Capitol. (Photo provided)

By Robert Barron

Staff Writer

Good academics and leadership already has paid off for Kaylena Smith of Che-rokee.

Smith was one of nearly 175 youths invited to the Congres-sional Stu-dent Lead-ership Con-ference in Washington, D.C., July 5-10.

Students from Japan and Nigeria also attended the conference, sponsored by Lead America.

"I got a letter last December saying I had been selected. All I had to do was raise the money," she said.

The $2,000 came from supporters in the community.

"Everybody in the community was willing to help out when they found out what I was doing," she said.

The group stayed at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where they were split into teams, which became their families for the five days.

The students participated in exercises that taught communications and other team-building activities.

One of the projects required being split into two groups to build a communications tower. One group built the top half and the other group built the bottom half. The two groups were only allowed to talk to each othe r twice during the exercise and could not see what the other group was doing.

"That taught us about trying to work together without all the information," she said.

Classes discussed teamwork and studied various types of leaders.

The group stayed on campus until July 7 when they played a trivia game. They were given a list of questions about Washington's sights, divided into teams and had two hours to go to as many places as possible and answer the questions.

They received points for each correct answer, and Smith's team won.

After the contest they went to Union Station for lunch.

After that the students visited the Smithsonian and Arlington Cemetery, and the Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Vietnam memorials.

At Arlington Cemetery they witnessed the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier and visited the grave of former president John F. Kennedy with its eternal flame.

They spent a day at Galladet University on a ropes course, learning more about teamwork, communication and working together.

Another first for Smith was flying by herself. She had never flown alone before. Her parents dropped her off at the airport in Wichita, Kan., and her flight went to Dallas, where she changed planes for the trip to Washington.

Smith could not find her gate in Dallas and missed her flight. She was given a ticket on the next flight and an airline representative took her to the correct gate.

Smith will be a senior at Cherokee High School this fall and will not have the opportunity to attend another leadership conference.

"I would definitely recommend this to anyone if accepted," she said.

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