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Building emotional intelligence is key

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Posted: Sunday, May 15, 2011 12:00 pm

Mike Sissel knows that emotional intelligence is a skill that all kids need to develop as they grow older. He is once again hosting a summer academy that will help kids ages 9 to 15 hone that skill and come out prepared for the next school year.

Sissel started his program, Youth Exemplifying Leadership Principals (YELP), after working with Erin Gruwell, the author of "The Freedom Writers Diary" and the subject of the film "Freedom Writers," and has since been certified to teach The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.

From his experiences and through YELP, Sissel teaches students to manage their emotions and use them to be effective and successful in schoolwork and beyond.

"I encourage them to take ownership and become the driver of their life," he said. "What I teach the kids is how to harness those emotions and use them successfully. It naturally improves academics."

The key is to get the kids to become more aware of their emotions and of the meaning behind relationships.

Sissel implements activities to get kids thinking about how their emotions impact their actions.

"Sometimes they don't give themselves enough time to reflect," Sissel said. "It's getting them to look at the choices they are making and how it affects the environment around them."

One thing he implements is the Line Game. He will have the students all stand against a wall and make such statements as: "Walk to the line if you have ever been bullied."

He said it gives them a sense that they are not alone.

"Eighty percent of kids struggle on some level with self-confidence," Sissel said. "They ask themselves, ‘Who am I?' And doing these activities will help them to get a grip on that question."

He also has the students do daily reflections of their work in which they write about what they thought about the activities, furthering their awareness. Part of the program is also to encourage goal-setting.

"It's important to talk about how to set effective goals," Sissel said. "It builds their confidence, even if it is something small."

There are three sections for the 2011 Summer Leadership Workshop, which goes from June 6-30, Monday through Thursday. Session 1, for kids ages 9 and 10, will be from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Session 2, for ages 11 and 12, will be from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Session 3, for ages 13 to 15, will be from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. To find out more, visit, call (480) 229-8767 or email

The workshops will be hosted by Summit School of Ahwatukee, 4515 E. Muirwood Dr.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or

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