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To Leadership and Beyond: My SCHOOL Went Disney

A group of high school leaders brings Toy Story to life at their school for a day-long student event

by Blake Taylor

Photos by Ashley Reid

            The line takes forever.  You’ve heard a lot of talk about it, but you’re not sure if it’s worth all the hype.  But, in the end, you gave in and took extra time out of your day to be here.  As you inch your way toward the front of the line, you are immediately glad you came: colors abound everywhere, intriguing sounds can be heard in the distance (is that a toy train chugging somewhere?), and the scenery does its job at making you feel like you’re the size of a toy.  Even Woody and Buzz are here.  There is a fun experience ahead for sure, but if you’re expecting a ride on Toy Story Mania after a long standby wait, you’d be dead wrong.  Try a high school library at the beginning of an imaginative day of leadership bootcamp.

My class is the generation that learned how to use our legs just as Pixar was gaining its own.  Toy Story was the quintessential, non-gender-specific family film of our childhood, and as such was the one VHS that was seems to have been played more than any other when students at my school were young.  And as we grew up, so did Toy Story: as Andy’s playtime matured and became more imaginative with age, so did ours, and at about the time when Andy bid a bittersweet farewell to his toys in Toy Story 3, we started thinking about doing the same.  This film series reflects today’s teenagers so much that it’s no wonder that many of us feel that it defines our childhood.  Although an unlikely candidate on the surface, that nostalgia is exactly what made Toy Story a perfect theme for my school’s annual Officer Prep workshop.

Led by the student government Executive Board, Officer Prep is a yearly event in which students are empowered with what it takes to be a successful leader.  The idea is for students to go forth and implement their newfound skills learned at Officer Prep into clubs, teams, staffs, and other leadership opportunities they hold.  The event takes place during half a school day in the media center, and is driven by a central theme around which the day’s activities are based.  This year’s theme was Toy Story.

            I talked with Student Body President Annie Spence about the task of transforming the school library into Andy’s room in a creative and efficient way, developing a fun environment but ultimately conveying the goal of educating future leaders.  “Each year, we have a large brainstorming session with the entire Executive Board,” Annie says in describing how themes are chosen.  “This year, we all immediately took to the idea ‘You’ve got a leader in me’ because we look for themes that could carry a strong story line, decorations, and good use of leadership characteristics.”  So Toy Story it was.  “It was a movie that (hopefully) most of our ‘audience’ has seen and can understand the references we would use in our skits and workshops. We watched Toy Story just to be sure, and made a big list of everything from the characters’ actions that involved leadership and decided that the theme was perfect!”

There was no sparing of creativity as the Executive Board played Imagineer for a day by creating a Disney environment out of their own school library.  The media center was dressed to the nines in streamers, backgrounds, character cut-outs, props, and more, all culminating together a setting that was immediately recognizable as coming from the world of Toy Story.  The theme was further implemented by all Executive Board members dressing as characters from the film and kicking off the event with a skit.  “Our skit followed a story line about ‘Annie’ (me as Andy), a toy owner who has just gotten a new toy as a gift,” Annie explains.  “The other toys show the new toy their leadership skills, and teach the new toy, named Edmund, leadership traits such as teamwork, listening, respect, and risk taking.”

From there, attendees were taught the makings of a successful leader in several 20-minute sessions, each using unique ways to teach a different trait: Campaigning, Communication, Synergy, and Community Service.

“The most challenging part of bringing the Toy Story world to a high school,” Annie concludes, “was transforming the school library into a whole new world that made the students feel like they were a toy in Andy’s room. Changing such a familiar space into a whole new world is always challenging, but especially when everything must look large scale in comparison to the students.”  Judging by the smiles of leaders and attendees alike as I occasionally peeked in on the festivities from my Library Science duties in the media center workroom, it was clear that the event was a success all around.

Any visitor to a Disney theme park knows that theme is essential in creating a memorable, quality experience.  As stellar as a ride (or, in this case, leadership workshop) may be, it is the theme that the Guest gets to be a part of that truly allows the entity to go from mediocre to E-Ticket, and Officer Prep did just that.  Don’t be afraid to sprinkle a little Disney magic of your own into your school or workplace’s next special event—you might just impress yourself with how well of an Imagineer you’d make.

Blake is a high-school student who has been surrounded by Disney literally since birth, having had a Mickey mobile in his crib.  Blake enjoys helping peers plan WDW vacations and writing for his Disney blog, BlakeOnline.com.