Olympia Snowe Leadership Institute Expands at CHS

The students of the Calais chapter of the Olympia Snowe Leadership Institute have the opportunity to develop their leadership abilities and confidence by participating in the program. Calais was the first school in Washington County to offer the program to its students. Front row, left to right: Lauren Cook, Kelsey LaCoote, Haley Sewell; back row: Brynne Lander, Adida Edwards, Mackenzie LaPointe, MacKenzie Beek-Bennett, Elizabeth Bitar, Twyla Smiley. (Photo courtesy of Megan Lord)

By Lura Jackson


Last year, Calais High School became the first school in Washington County to host the Olympia Snowe Leadership Institute, a program specifically designed to develop the qualities of leadership and confidence in high school girls. The program, which is designed for sophomores, juniors, and seniors, began in Calais at the sophomore level with a cohort of five students; this year, as those students moved to the junior level, a second cohort of five students was added.

Elevating the confidence of young women is fundamental to their development, and it will have significant ramifications later in their life. As girls mature, they tend to withdraw from leadership roles, largely due to societal influences. According to the National Report on the State of Self-Esteem, 70 percent of girls believe they aren’t good enough or don’t measure up in some way, either in their looks, academic performance, or in their relationships. A women’s leadership study by KPMG indicates that when young women have positive role models in their youth, they are twice as likely to feel confident as adults. 

The Calais chapter of the Olympia Snowe Leadership Institute is headed by two Leader Advisors, Lanette Pottle and Judy East. Every month the pair meet with the young women who have joined the institute to focus on the recommended curriculum of the program, which targets one specific asset every year. For sophomores the program focuses on values, for juniors it expands into voice, and for seniors the goal is to develop vision. “It’s a very thought out curriculum,” Pottle said. Aside from the curriculum itself, the students benefit from working with the same group of peers and from the mentorship role with Pottle and East.

For Pottle, participating in the program as a Leader Advisor has personal meaning. “Part of my story is being a young teenage mother,” Pottle explained. “Had I been involved in a program like this, how might my journey have been different?” By interacting with the young women and providing them with a positive role model and an invaluable psychological foundation, Pottle knows how much of a difference the program can make. “This exposes them to the power that they hold within themselves. It’s about building up confidence and self-esteem – those things that impact the choices that you make.”

Students that join the institute are ones that have been pre-identified by teachers as having a high probability of success and commitment to the program. Joining means committing to active participation in the program for three years, thereby ensuring the students are in contact with one another and their Leader Advisors right up until graduation.

The Olympia Snowe Institute is gradually expanding throughout Maine. This fall, Narraguagus became the second school in Washington County to offer it to its young women. By the fall of 2019, the program aims to include 36 schools and 540 students. 

Since it is a statewide program, one of the benefits the institute offers is being able to meet as a group each November for the Fall Forum. The Calais students recently attended the 2017 Fall Forum in Southern Maine. The group of students and their accompanying Leader Advisors and guests were welcomed by Olympia Snowe and then broken up into grade-specific groups for focused activities.