Leadin’ and Learnin’ up at River Valley Ranch


Squishing their way up the soggy main street of River Valley Ranch, Tyler Anderson and Bradley Allen might have been tempted to let the dreary weather dampen their spirits.

Here they were, exploring an intriguing but imitation Old West town as part of the Baltimore County Student Councils’ Fall Leadership Conference, and a rainy, persistent cold front not only had delayed their arrival by a day but now threatened to douse the whole experience.

But like many of the 140 BCPS student leaders who commandeered the ranch for two days this month, Tyler and Bradley didn’t let the drizzly day ruin their enthusiasm. After all, they said, what kind of leaders would they be if they let a little rain scuttle their conference?

“You can’t have bad leadership skills if you’re going to be a good and effective student leader, and we’re here to improve our skills,” said Bradley, a senior at Sparrows Point High School. “I’m having fun. It’s different from what I thought it would be like here, but I kind of like the old-time feel of the place. And we’re learning a lot!”

Added Tyler, a sophomore at Towson High School, “I didn’t expect this at all. I can’t wait for our free time; I want to check out the jail. I wonder if it has real cells.”

Despite the weather, the leadership conference proved a successful way to gather student council representatives from middle and high schools across Baltimore County for a fun and informative retreat – held this year in a sprawling camp made to resemble an Old West town.

Located by the Pennsylvania state line north of Manchester, the ranch boasts rows of frontier-type clapboard shops, wooden liveries,  wide-porched structures labeled “Hotel,” “Long Horn,” “Stage Depot,” “The Oxbow,” an aged brick jail for outlaws, and the Buffalo and Muddy Creek lodges – dormitories for overnight guests.

Down the Muddy Creek – this day swollen with rain and running swiftly through the ranch – visitors can engage in a climbing wall, zipline, and other outdoor activities. On the outskirts of the ranch across a covered bridge, a rodeo ring and grandstand beckon, while horses graze on a hillside nearby, unfazed by the drizzle.

It’s a perfect place for the student-run BCSC Leadership Conference, which for years has brought together Baltimore County kids to learn leadership and team-building skills, enjoy activities ranging from talent shows to bonfires and s’mores, and swap ideas and information about how to better represent and serve their fellow classmates.

“It’s gone really well this year,” said Deeksha Walia, a member of the BCSC Executive Board and Student Member of the Board of Education of Baltimore County. “We made it work, despite the rain.” She and BCSC President Nick Burton-Prateley worked with dozens of other student coordinators, along with teacher advisors and countywide BCSC coordinator Nora Murray, to plan and execute the three-day retreat, which was abbreviated when the rainy, humid, and hot weather intruded.

“We can all improve upon our skills, and this is a great way to do that,” said Deeksha, who is a senior at Kenwood High School. “And while we’re all leaders, sometimes it’s important to know when to step back, to listen, and to be learners.” 

Added Nick, a senior at Hereford High School, “One of the great things about the conference is that it’s a great place to get ideas from other students. We can talk with students from Hereford to Dundalk, Perry Hall to Lansdowne. It creates a really strong bond among everyone, and it’s really nice to meet and share ideas with others.”

Students were getting a first-hand introduction to the idea of sharing on the conference’s first morning as they participated in communications, leadership, and team-building workshops – the last a raucous, sometimes confusing test of togetherness. Using heavy boards and tethers resembling bulky wooden skis, teams of six were tasked with getting from one end of the Ole Town Meeting House to the other without touching the floor. Amid the clatter, laughing, and military-style commands – “Left! Right! Left! Right!” -- each team eventually traversed the challenge.

BCSC Fall Leadership Conference

Nearby, veteran conference attendee Tiffany Klingenstein nodded approvingly. As a facilitator, the Eastern Technical High School junior had mastered plenty of similar activities, always with fun, learning, and a closer bond with her fellow student leaders.

“You get to meet people from across the county, and it’s a fun way of learning,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for all of us.”   

Story and photos by Charles Herndon, specialist, BCPS Family and Community Engagement  
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