Student leadership opportunities increase

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Staff from Coalhurst high school and elementary school gathered for a professional development opportunity to increase student leadership.

COALHURST – Imagine learning to surf only to find out you have no access to the ocean.

That’s a scenario staff at two Palliser Regional Schools here are working to eliminate in the name of student leadership.

They recently brainstormed ways to carry the philosophy – and benefits – of the Leader in Me program over from Coalhurst Elementary School to Coalhurst High School. They’re also hoping the community will catch that wave with them.

The Leader in Me program is based on the belief that every child has the ability to be a leader and make a positive difference. Leadership development is integrated into existing programs, curriculum and traditions.

The program is now found at elementary and  middle schools and while FranklinCovey is still working on a process to expand that through the high school years, staff and students at Coalhurst High School aren’t waiting.

Charlene Grimes says there’s a real need to encourage students to take a leadership role, no matter the grade.

“It’s one thing to educate our kids to be good at math and be good at biology and English, but this is about becoming global citizens,” says the Coalhurst High School principal. “We are in scary times in the world these days and I think a big part of our job is also to teach our kids to grow to be leaders, to take initiatives, to step up, to have a voice.”

The collaboration came about after Grimes saw the benefits of her students working with their younger counterparts at CES on a limited basis, and wanted more. 

“I could already see their confidence growing and they were getting so excited about something they were doing at school. It was those connections. That’s what we are here for,” she says of a recent joint professional development day the two schools spent together under the guidance of a Leader in Me coach.

Grimes hopes those efforts will make for a smoother transition for students moving from elementary to high school. Not only will they share a common language and phrases like “win-win” and “sharpen the saw” will make sense to all, she says a greater connection between the two schools should reduce anxiety in some of those students going into Grade 7 at CHS.

Coalhurst Elementary School Principal Chris McIntyre can see the benefits of student leadership at both schools, having moved from CHS to CES this year. The leadership dynamics are different, he says, between students at the two schools.

There’s generally a “plethora” of students who want to get involved in making their elementary school a better place and they are very vocal about it. McIntyre says those students are looking to the adults to help facilitate those ideas.

In high school, there are a handful of students – usually those on school council – who volunteer to do the heavy lifting. The larger group, he says, do want to help but they’re not as vocal about it and need to be shown the value of their participation first.

“You know it’s not a different child than the one who left Grade 6,” he says of those high school students. “They want to help. They want to contribute. They want to be successful. They have the attitudes and the values needed. In some cases it’s lighting a spark and helping them to be inspired for change.”

The direction any new leadership initiatives take will be up to the students, says McIntyre. For leadership to become a part of the culture and not just a buzz word, the movement has to be driven by, and supported by, the students.

“You can’t just create projects and say ‘come on kids, let’s do this because it’s important,’ ” he says. “It’s important to whom? Whoever created the project.”

Getting greater community involvement would allow for greater exposure of the positive things students are doing, adds McIntyre. Although Grimes believes the schools have a strong relationship with the community already, she sees this is an opportunity to cement that bond.

“I think the school is the heart of any community.  If there is a disconnect, then we are doing a disservice all around,” she says.

Kim Horak, recreation co-ordinator with the Town of Coalhurst,  points out existing opportunities like the Between Friends program, which teams up Grade 8 students with local seniors once a week. She says  the town welcomes further interaction with the two schools.

“One thing I have seen over the years is that when you invest in the kids, they take ownership, and with that ownership they take responsibility,” says Horak, who represented the town at the full-day gathering. “The kids look after the town;, the town looks after the kids.”

John Flokstra, a Leader in Me coach and senior consultant with FranklinCovey , says the professional development opportunity was a chance to discuss what it means to be a leader and how staff can model leadership for the students. He also shared a vision with staff of the potential of their endeavour.

While the direction they take is up to the staff and students at the two schools, Flokstra considers his time well spent.

“Even if it’s just one student who walks out thinking ‘I thought I really didn’t have a future, but now I don’t think anything can stop me,’ that is worth it for us to invest,” he says.