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The City Journals

Students grow into leaders through student council

Feb 08, 2021 01:00PM ● By Julie Slama

Welby Elementary student council members took a break from their regular duties of introducing Golden Gate Kids program to decorate the school’s tree. (Jason White/Welby Elementary)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Serving on student council can change lives.

Jason White has seen this happen in his time of advising Welby Elementary’s student council — including this year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the beginning of the year, they talk about anti-bullying, about leadership and about being an example,” he said. “But they also learn about giving when we do service projects and want to make a difference in people’s lives.” 

Many times, White has seen students break out of their bubbles. This year, he’s witnessed a shy girl become a quiet, but confident leader.

“She’s a really good student. She’s one of those kids that when she says something everyone listens. She has something to say, it’s really profound,” White said. “She’s a soft-spoken girl, but she’s totally comfortable and a good reader when she does the announcements. That’s helped her overcome her shyness in public speaking and definitely when she does a presentation in front of class.”

Often times, the announcements may include things at school including fundraisers, spirit days and school lunch as well as what the student council is working on – this year, introducing the Golden Gate Kids program to the school.

Similar to the Golden Gate program at nearby Bingham High, the program focuses on making friends and a stronger community.

“In a nutshell, it’s an anti-bullying program, with its aim at becoming a more friendly school,” he said, adding that the student leaders are helping change the attitudes of themselves and others at Welby.

Every month, the student leaders have a pledge point that they relay to their peers. The students began the program with the pledge of “I will smile at others.” In December, they introduced. “I will be a true friend.” Other pledges include treating others and themselves with respect, they will be problem-solvers and they are in charge of their own happiness.

White said then, the students are responsible to communicate that to their peers. They do this through hanging posters and reminders in the halls as well as share the pledge point on the school announcements.

“They talk about the program and challenge the students on whatever the focus that month is. This month, it’s being a better friend. They talk about what does a better friend means to them, whoever’s turn it is on student council to do the announcements,” he said. “It’s great that from the lessons that are taught, they can take that slogan on themselves and become that kind of person to better themselves and those students around them.”

The students may give a definition, an example and then a challenge statement.

“It’s not something specific like I challenge you to talk to five new people or wave to a new person. They do say, ‘how can you be a friend to others? Being a friend to others is going out of your way and saying hi to people; so I challenge you today to work on being a better friend to those around you,’” White said.

Assistant Principal Allyson Stovall introduced the program to the school.

“There’s an air of kindness where kids are helping each other, smiling and waving back — and the kindness is contagious,” she said. 

The lessons are printed for teachers, who give it to students in class. Stovall and Principal Aaron Ichimuru read a story to the class to match the pledge, “I Will Be a True Friend.” 

It’s also shared with parents, who are given a QR code to scan and learn more about the monthly pledge point and research behind it. The purpose is to teach students to build positive connections to not only their personal life, their classmates and their family, but also to the community.

There also is a faculty inspirational component to the program.

“Our faculty have bought into it and accept the challenge. They held a welcome party at the beginning of school, smiling, cheering and having a fun morning that welcomed them to school. They held posters that read ‘you can do it,’ which just sets the mood for students to have friends and make those connections,” she said. “It’s an attitude-changer for our teachers and our students.”

That is reinforced in the new Morning Meetings, a time where all teachers greet students in their class, give students a time to share and then, lay out the day’s schedule so students can focus, Stovall said.

“It’s helped to have student council explain a pledge point and create a way to make it memorable to students,” she said. “Then, to see them do it, smiling at others, becoming true friends — it’s very student-motivated.”

Stovall saw it work at Bingham High when someone was sitting alone in the cafeteria and others would join that person or invite him to sit with them.

“I hope it will be that way at Welby,” she said, adding that she hopes in a non-COVID-19 year to have Bingham High Golden Gate students share their experiences in person with Welby students. “I struggled in elementary school, being bullied and feeling out of place so I want to bring this program to every child. It matters that they matter. I want them to connect to teachers, not just in an academic way, but in a personal way and build those relationships.”

Stovall said that already this school year, the amounts of arguments on the playground and disrespect for one another has decreased significantly and she credits the change of culture in the school.

White added that the Golden Gate goals tie into a leadership conference that the students attended virtually at the beginning of the year, so student leaders are able to pull those examples into their role play and communication with their peers.