LAKEWOOD—Attendees to the various concerts and events held at Preston Area School this year may have noticed a group of sharply dressed students standing at attention, ready to usher the crowds and offer assistance at a moment's notice.

This uniformed unit of 19 students is the inaugural collection of the Preston Ambassadors Leadership Academy, a new after-school club formed from grant funding provided through the George A. and Margaret Mee Foundation.

Overseen by club advisor, Deborah Kussoff, the Preston Ambassadors Academy meets after school for an hour every Thursday to learn the finer points of etiquette, professionalism and good manners.

Dressed to the nines in their emblazoned shirt, sweater, trouser uniform, the ambassadors put their skills into practice at school-held events this year, including the Christmas Concert, the Hairspray Jr. production, and the truck petting zoo.

Other facets of the club include preparation for high school, college and career trajectories.

The inaugural club consists of students Arik Biederman, Lindsay Delamarter, Olivia DuBois, Landon Estus, Ariel Harris, Jorden Haviland, Natasha Hendrickson, Liam Kelly, Emma McKeon, Chloe Moore, Gwyneth Nebzydoski, Alaina Neu, Dakota Skidmore, Shailyn Smith, Wynter Stanton, Waylon Thomson, Natalie Woodmansee, Stevie Woodmansee and Cameron Wormuth.

The students were excited to share their many exploits for the year, including a veteran's breakfast, making special paper boxes for seniors at Christmas, and a trip to Penn State University to learn from their ambassadors the finer points of being a school representative.

The club noted good ambassadors strive “to be nice to people and to respect people,” “not to act badly,” “to be good in school,” and “to have good posture and make eye contact.”

Their goal, as the club explained is to set a good example and be a good leader.

Kussoff described the crux of the program as forming “exemplary students,” which includes earning and maintaining high marks in school.

The grant used to kick-start the ambassadors club totaled over $43,000, though only a portion of that went to the leadership academy.

The Mee Foundation funding laid the groundwork for tutoring, chess club and intramural sports after school programs, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) instructional activities, career and community exploration opportunities, and more.

Also funded through the grant and in partnership with the Northeast Intermediate Unit (NEIU) 19, Preston School welcomed Maxwell Kofi Dankon as an artist in residence earlier this year.

“...we were able to bring Kofi to us,” said Preston's Principal, David Jagger. “He did a two-week residency in November with our students and they learned about African drumming and African culture...”

The Mee Foundation grant also provided funding for 16 keyboards as part of the Music and the Brain program.

According to the program website, Music and the Brain's mission is to increase music literacy though keyboard instruction, which in turn helps students build cognitive and fine motor skills which are transferrable to other aspects of academics.

Preston music instructor, Erin Canedy explained the program has been a boon helping relate the finer points of music theory into practice in the classroom.

“All of the things we've been doing...All that knowledge, they apply to the keyboards,” she explained. “It's taking all of that and physically doing something with the keyboards.”

Observing the students' practice on the keyboards also allows Canedy to identify which aspects of the curriculum need reinforcement.

Music and the Brain has also offered a means of driving the interest in some students who were otherwise disinterested in music.

For the programs initial run, Canedy implemented it in grades 3-8. She plans to implement instruction for all students in grades K-8 in the future.

“We're really lucky to have it at a small school like this,” said Canedy. “Private lessons are often a luxury for some people. [The program] allows every child to be able to experience it when they might not have otherwise had the opportunity.”

Canedy plans to showcase some of what the students have learned at the upcoming Spring Concert on Wednesday, May 15.

Jagger explained the programs initiated through the Mee Foundation grant, along with the recently implemented house system (to be discussed in a future story) are known as the Preston PRIDE program.

PRIDE stands for Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Discipline and Excellence.

“We have a daily, Preston PRIDE creed read by a different student each day as part of our morning announcements and as a daily reminder that these are the values that we expect to teach, and learn, and practice,” said Jagger.

“It's been extremely positive,” said Jagger of the experiences provided by the Mee grant. “our groups have been well attended. There's a tangible feeling, with our leadership group in particular, that they are contributing to their school and larger community.”