Rotary club hosts ethics workshop for Sibley students

If you want a tree to grow up straight, you prune it when it’s young. If you want to cultivate integrity in the wider community, you start with the next generation.

The West St. Paul-Mendota Heights Rotary Club hopes to do just that when it hosts 60 students from Henry Sibley High School for a daylong seminar on ethics and leadership March 7. The event gives students the opportunity to debate issues and solve ethical dilemmas with help from Rotary volunteers and local businesspeople.

The program is designed and carried out in partnership with the University of St. Thomas, which helped the Eagan Rotary Club with a similar event last year. The Eagan club spread word about the innovative program, hoping to inspire other clubs.

Those outreach efforts met a receptive audience in Bud Shaver, chief of police in West St. Paul and a member of the West St. Paul Rotary.

“We were looking for something new and fun to do,” Shaver said.

But beyond trying something different, Shaver recognized the potential impact such an investment in the students could yield for the community. Shaver explained that in his line of work, he sees many tragic outcomes that might have been preventable if individuals involved had been taught to value ethics and integrity.

In many cases, Shaver said the problems start with minor behaviors and misconceptions.

“Those are small things that, if they start as young people, can lead to big things,” Shaver said.

Nancy Allen-Mastro, District 197 superintendent and a fellow Rotary member, also recognized the potential value of the seminar. Allen-Mastro explained that high school is a critical developmental period for students.

“This is really when they’re shaping their views and establishing their behaviors that they’ll carry into their work,” she said. “If they don’t have those tools to process things, than they might be more subject to negative influences.”

‘What Rotary is all about’

The 60 students participating in the seminar are selected based on nominations by teachers. Allen-Mastro said teachers are instructed to evaluate students based on leadership potential and the sway they carry with peers, and not necessarily current leadership roles or academic achievement.

“Leaders come in all forms,” Allen-Mastro explained.

At the event, students will be seated six to a table with a Rotary volunteer, who will act as the table monitor. The event is sponsored in part by local businesses at a donation of $100 per table. Representatives from sponsoring business are encouraged to attend lunch and talk with students about how ethics play a role in their business practices.

Allen-Mastro said the involvement of local businesspeople is especially important, because it gives kids concrete examples of ethical dilemmas from people who might well be their future employers.

“They put the kids in touch with the real world beyond the classroom,” Allen-Mastro said.

After lunch, students are assigned distinct roles within a quasi corporation and then presented hypothetical situations to work through, with prompting from their table monitors. (Both Shaver and Allen-Mastro will serve as table monitors.)

Shaver half-jokingly said he has ulterior motives in the outcome of this event: a community dedicated to ethical behavior makes police work a bit easier.

“Nancy and I have a really special, vested interest in this,” Shaver said.

But Shaver also emphasized that successfully instilling these virtues in future generations is crucial for all members of a community, and falls in line with the fourth question of the Rotary Club’s Four-Way Test for evaluating actions: “Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”

“This is a perfect example of what Rotary is all about,” Shaver said.

Luke Reiter can be reached at lreiter@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.

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