Partners for Student Success Careers  /  Staff Directory  /  Staff Login  /  Frontline
Special School District of St. Louis County

SSD Students Attend Missouri
Youth Leadership Institute




Several students who receive services from SSD participated in the Missouri Youth Leadership Institute in July. The four-day leadership-training program is for high school students with disabilities, ages 16-21, who were selected from local communities to help them cultivate leadership, citizenship and social skills.

The Missouri Youth Leadership Institute assists students in developing leadership skills to help them reach their full potential. It also promotes inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society, and participates in policy-making that affects young people with disabilities.

Scott Sanchez, a senior at Ladue Horton Watkins High School who receives services from SSD, attended the leadership program. “I found out about the program through a wonderful organization called Missouri Families for Effective Treatment of Autism. I knew I would find the forum helpful, so I applied almost immediately,” he said.

Students interested in attending were selected through a statewide competitive process that sought students with disabilities who have leadership potential. Each applicant submitted a standard application, resume and three letters of recommendation.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to let everyone or anyone know that I have a disability,” said Joshua Walker, a senior at Ritenour High School and SSD’s North Technical High School. Walker receives SSD services and also attended the forum. “After the conference, I am proud of what I have accomplished and of who I am. The friends I made will be with me for a long time.”

One of the goals of the program is for students with disabilities to meet other students who share similar experiences. Through the course of four days, students learned to build pride and self-esteem, and began building a supportive community.

“I met some people there that changed my outlook on how and who to trust,” said Sanchez. “When I first walked in and saw all of those people that were so different, it honestly scared me a bit. I wasn’t sure I’d fit in, if I could trust these people, or if I could even have a decent conversation across that chasm of ‘differentness.’ However, in the four days I had with them, most of them turned out to be pretty cool.”

One of the keys to the Missouri Youth Leadership Forum is leadership by example. As part of the program, students met successful adults with disabilities who shared similar challenges. This framework provided an atmosphere of encouragement that helped the students realize their ability to pursue meaningful employment and become contributing members of society.

“It’s always better to work in numbers and being with the like-minded people helps a lot,” said Walker. “Working closely with people with disabilities can really open your eyes up to what they may need, like making sure newly constructed buildings have entranceways for wheelchairs or other easy ways to enter the building.”

Students at the forum also learned about building independent living skills and setting career goals as well as ways to develop advocacy skills. 

Walker plans to use the skills he developed in the future by volunteering his time to work with people with disabilities. “I am not sure if school is in my future, but I am definitely striving to make a difference in others’ lives in a positive way.”

Because of his disability, Walker knows he has had to work hard for things. “It has made me appreciate my successes and my failures,” he said. “I know if you put your best effort into what you are doing, you will not fail. Regardless of the outcome, you know you gave it your all. And that leaves me with no regrets.”

Sanchez says he will use the skills he worked on at the forum in the future. “I want to go to college and maybe study in the area of pharmacy. I don’t exactly have a plan yet, though, and this both excites and terrifies me.”

For more information about the Missouri Youth Leadership Forum, visit
Joshua WalkerJoshua Walker
Contact SSD  /  Accessibility  /  RFPs  /  Public Notices  /  Site Map   /  E-news

12110 Clayton Rd, Town & Country, MO 63131  /  314.989.8100  /  314.989.8552 – 711 (Missouri Relay)

Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
SSD logo
Twitter Facebook
Translate this site:
Complete a survey about today's website visit