Fourteen teen-agers had to figure out how to line up in numerical order by their birth date - without talking.
It was an exercise early in a leadership institute at the University of Alaska Southeast that runs June 3-15, co-sponsored by First National Bank of Anchorage. It's designed to foster leadership, make the transition to college easier for rural high school students and give them a chance to explore careers, said Tim Schroeder, one of the organizers.
In a previous lining-up exercise two students were out of place, despite all their hand signals. This time, even after they were told to double-check their positions and there was no time limit, a few were still out of order.
"So why were we so hurried to get it done?" organizer Timi Tullis asked the students Tuesday in the Lake Room at the Juneau campus. "Did you double-check? Nope. How does that pertain to school? We need to remember to double-check, to communicate, to talk to each other."
Jessie Borenin from the Aleutian village of Akutan said she will attend the University of Alaska Anchorage.
"I'm hoping this will show me what to expect when I get to college. And I could be a better leader," she said.
When students from small rural towns go to college, it's a whole new world of opportunities for them, Schroeder said. All their lives they've associated with everybody in their village. At college they have to make choices.
In their home town, the teachers are with them day after day. If they fall through the cracks, it gets noticed, Schroeder said. "If they move to a bigger city and go to college, they may well blend in and be missed. So it's important to us to stress their responsibility in their education."
Tyler Ellis, a senior, is one of just 14 kids in the Port Alexander school on Baranof Island.
"Everyone there fishes. That or they're a teacher. There's only one teacher," he added.
In his town, Ellis doesn't meet a lot of people. That's one reason he's attending the institute. "If I ever plan on going to college, I don't want to be all shy."
Many students seemed eager to try something new and go to college.
"If you stay in a small village you have to do more physical activities like logging or fishing," said Natalie Hughes, a junior in Kake. "Most kids would want to go to school. There isn't much there for graduates."
The students spent last week talking about topics such as leadership and teamwork, time management and stress management. This week they'll apply what they learned in community service and job shadowing.
Three Native professionals spoke to the students about leadership Tuesday.
Financial advisor Brad Fluetsch said he changed his interests when he took an economics course in college and found it fascinating. Leadership isn't something a person strives to do, he said. But if you do what you love and are good at it, others will recognize your ability and turn to you for help, he told the students.
"What I'm saying is, you all have a gift. You all have a joy in life. ... That's your livelihood and career," Fluetsch said.
After the line-up exercise Tuesday, Tullis formed the students in a circle and required them to hold onto the arms of two kids who weren't next to them. Altogether, it twisted the students into a knot. Their goal was to get themselves into a circle again without letting go. It took about 30 minutes of trying out suggestions for stepping over and under linked arms.
One lesson: "You've got to be able to listen to everybody," said Elgin Hollins, a senior from Sitka.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org