Colin Powell Visits MacFarland MS to Talk to Students in Leadership Club 

Jan. 17, 2012

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As a former National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State, Colin Powell can share stories of a high-profile military and political career that spanned five presidential administrations.

But for the MacFarland Middle School students in the Colin Powell Leadership Club who met Powell on Thursday, the story that resonated the most was the one they could relate to: Powell’s urban upbringing and family life as a child.

“A lot of students related to him,” said MacFarland Middle School Principal Andre Samuels. “He had immigrant parents and we have a high number of students in the English Language Learners program [with immigrant parents]. He grew up in New York and moved on to be a better person.”

The Colin Powell Leadership Club, part of the community outreach program for the McLean, Va.-based St. John’s Episcopal Church, has operated continuously at MacFarland Middle School since 1998. Tutors and mentors from the church strive to instill enthusiasm for learning, teach leadership and responsibility, and help students set positive goals. Powell, a parishioner at St. John’s, directed the club’s creation and participates in the program.

Powell visited the Ward 4 middle school Thursday at the request of a student in the program. During his visit, Powell met with students, shared his life story and gave students a chance to ask some questions before touring the school he last visited in 1998 when the program started.

“Students asked questions about his role in [the terrorist attacks of] 9/11, about his background and asked if he ever imagined as a youngster that he would be the person he is today,” Samuels said. “They didn’t know much about him until he told his story and that helped build an interest.”

MacFarland Middle School, the only standalone middle school in Ward 4, has been focusing on improving its image by promoting a positive school culture with an emphasis on building leadership skills and making good decisions. In addition to the Colin Powell Leadership Club, the school has a variety of clubs that help further the school’s goals.

“The main thing we want to stress is we want to be a hub for the community,” Samuels said. “We are working to make students better citizens and to help them make good choices inside and outside of MacFarland.”

Samuels said the Powell visit gave students an opportunity to learn from a great statesman and get to know the retired general as a person.

“He talked about his grandkids and xBox, so they could really relate to him,” Samuels said. “He was not just an ‘untouchable.’”

Samuels added that the visit capped off a fantastic week at MacFarland and set the stage for what he hopes will be another great week full of fundraisers, Family Nights and, of course, the Martin Luther King Day of Service volunteer effort this past Monday.

“As the only Ward 4 middle school surrounded by charter schools, it’s good to have a lot of eyes on our school,” he said, noting that Chancellor Kaya Henderson mentioned MacFarland as a “hidden gem” in recent interviews on the DCPS School Scorecards and highlighted the schools efforts to reduce truancy and improve safety. “It was perfect. We had that mention the day before [on Tuesday] and then Colin Powell walks through the doors.”

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