Reflections on Student Council as a Community Builder

This year I took on the duties of Student Council Advisor. Before I started, I knew that this would be a huge undertaking. My school’s Student Council has many responsibilities including the fall Pep Rally, fall and spring government elections, and various fundraisers.  In order to see if this group would be a worthwhile time investment, I did my background research.

First, I learned that an advantage of Student Council over other clubs is that it takes selected leaders from each class at the school.  While the seniors run the club, all members are respected leaders of their class.  However, just because these students get the nod of approval from their peers does not guarantee that they will truly embody the qualities of leadership nor engender the requisite “buy-in” from their peers in the club. I had to dig deeper. Last summer I made several phone calls to various people in our school community. At the very least, I was assured that my senior officers were top notch and folks who really wanted to make a difference in their community.  OK, I was in.

The first meeting with my officers happened last summer, via Skype. I was enjoying one of the last nice days of the summer on the South Shore of Boston and three of my officers got together at one of their homes on the North Shore. BAM! 45 minutes later I knew we had a rockin’ crew. The gist of the meeting was that the students had to take control. It was their club.  They had the experience. I’d do whatever I could to provide extra guidance.  We discussed the potential power that lies in the diverse group of leaders such as Student Council.  I encouraged them to think outside the box. The meeting concluded and we were on to day one of the 2010-2011 school year.

Over the next several months, my officers proved to be reliable, confident, friendly and organized. Fall events such as government elections and the Pep Rally went off without a hitch. As the students began to see the effect that they could have on the community, they started thinking about bigger projects.  It was January when they approached me with the idea for the project that would prove to be the defining school activity for 2011.

“Hey Mr. Springer, what do you think about this?” My officers then played a series of music videos for me (school-wide  music videos to be precise).  If you have been paying attention to high school viral videos on YouTube, then perhaps you’ve come across these. If you haven’t, it’s worth a quick search on YouTube (search: high school lip dub). The project was recommended to my officers by one of our history teachers. The faculty has spent the last few years debating the best way for students to show “school pride”. In past years, seniors marched through the halls as part of the annual end-of-the-year parade.  They threw confetti everywhere, yelled at teachers and underclassmen as they passed rooms, etc.  Many felt that instead of leaving on a high note, the march felt more like a big middle finger to everyone in the community as the seniors walked out the door.  The project that this year’s seniors were promoting would be a way for them to bring together everyone in the school for one last celebration of community before the they graduated.  I told the officers that if they could sell it to the administration then I was in.

The officers then got together with the club and brainstormed their proposal to the administration. As written by the students in the club, here was their mission statement:

“This event will show how much of a community Reading Memorial High School is and the spirit we have for our school. It will promote all of our school groups, clubs, teams, and academics by gathering support from each. It will promote a positive, friendly school environment in which the students appreciate and value their facilities and the bonds they have with each other and faculty members. It will be a great way to show others how great of a school we have at Reading. This video could be showed to future freshmen or to other teachers at the Blue Ribbon Conferences. It could be a great tradition to start at RMHS and truly would bring everyone together.”

The students then gave several mini suggestions as to how the event could affect the following areas:

  • Promote school spirit; create unity, “we are all in this together”
  • Relieve stress
  • Student creativity
  • Student-Teacher-Administration bonding
  • Promoting friendly school environment, anti-bullying
  • Get incoming Freshman excited about RMHS
  • Orientation, show some of the school
  • Promote different clubs
  • Fitness by moving around
  • Show different values of the school (recycling, etc.)
  • Show off facilities
  • Promotion for April sharing conference hosted at our school
  • Recognize leaders as well as those who are not
  • EVERYONE
  • Respect the building

On the morning of March 23rd, the officers showed up to school at 6:50am ready for their big proposal meeting with the administration. They were dressed professionally. Each had a copy of their proposal in hand with extras ready for each administrator.  They rehearsed how they would give their pitch. At 7:00am they walked into the main office and by 7:30am they walked back to my room excited that their idea had been approved.  

May 11th was our day to film. We would have an early release that day, which meant that we would have about an hour and a half from when school ended until sports practices started to film.  The planning evolved in a series of phases:

Phase 1: Research

  • We watched as many YouTube videos as possible and took notes.
  • We contacted other schools who have done similar projects and asked for advice (our principal called one school and one of our officers contacted another school’s student leader through Facebook).

Phase 2: Networking

  • We assembled a tech team consisting of several of the most talented student tech gurus at our school. These folks would be an essential piece to our success as we moved forward with logisitics.
  • We recruited teacher consultants to help advise our planning. Being a relatively new teacher to the district, the advice and support from the more experienced staff members helped us forsee several of the issues and complications that were to arise when trying to plan an event of this magnitude at the school.
  • We also recruited and sold our idea to club and team leaders.  If we could get the upperclassmen interested and committed, then the underclassmen would join too.

Phase 3: Logistics

  • We drew a detailed map of school with all details of walking route (ie. what rooms/halls we pass, what doors need to be accounted for, what thresholds to doors needed to be accounted for, etc).
  • We created a master script for the filming.
        – Where do soloists enter and exit?
        – When do soloists enter and exit?
        – Who will sing which lyrics?
        – At what second of the song does door 3 need to be opened?
        – At what second do the track girls get cued to begin their hurdle run in order to coordinate their hurdling with the camera coming out of the main office?
  • We assigned zones for each Student Council member to monitor on the day of filming with specific duties for each person in each zone. (ie. Zack will be in charge of zone 6 where he needs to ensure that teachers are in the right place.  He will also hand off a guitar to Jared as Jared slides down railing).
  • Our tech team built a lighting rig that would ensure that we could see people’s faces in the film.

*This is just the tip of the iceberg… in order to ensure success and efficiency, we tried to think through every little thing that we possible could before the day of recording.

Phase 4: Rehearsal

  • We had a two hour dress rehearsal and a three hour dress rehearsal.  This time was used to show everyone involved exactly what needed to happen on the day of recording.
  • The rehearsals were essential to both work out kinks in our logistical planning and communicate to everyone in the project that their participation was crucial to the success of the event.
  • These meetings consisted of Student Council members, soloists, club/team leaders, the tech team and a few faculty consultants. We figured that if the leaders of each group at school knew what to do, they could rally their peers to take care of business.
  • We also recorded one of our run-throughs, uploaded it to YouTube, and used this video to promote the activity to other students.

Phase 5: Day of Recording

  • When school ended at 1:11pm we sent our upperclassmen leaders to the halls to recruit participants and send them to the field house. Meanwhile, underclassmen worked to make sure the walking route was set up appropriately (ie. unlocking doors and turning on lights).
  • We filmed the last scene first with all the students in the bleachers.  While in the bleachers, we explained the time crunch and procedure for the filming.
  • We dismissed clubs one by one and they were escorted by student council members to their positions.
  • Once everyone was settled and understood their role, we did three takes. Each take was one shot.  We were done by 2:20pm and dismissed everyone to their respective extracurricular activities ten minutes ahead of schedule.

Phase 6: Post-Production Work

  • Our tech team dedicated the next couple weeks to editing the final versions of our video.
  • After bouncing around various ideas with the editing and getting approval from the administration, we posted the final product to YouTube.
  • The video was shown for the first time publicly at our school’s Class Day Ceremony.

Phase 7: Reflection

After each of our events this year, we spent time as a club reflecting on the process.  The final product was never perfect and we constantly looked for ways to improve for the potential “next time.”  That said, here I’ll focus on the positives.

My students thought outside the box.  They rallied their community in the name of celebration of one another.  So many different skills came out that highlighted the great diversity that our school has to offer. Students learned leadership, organization, communication, and technical skills.  Those who participated made friendships with people through our project that they might not have made otherwise.  Faculty members had the opportunity to laugh with other teachers that they might not have had a conversations with prior to this event.  

To summarize, this project was about community building.  The final product, however it came out, was not the quintessence of this project, but rather the representation of the hard work and good people that went into pulling it together. I’m proud to have been a part of Student Council this year. I’m proud of the learning that came from taking on all of our projects this year.  I’m proud of the relationships that were built along the way.  We hope you enjoy our video.

One thought on “Reflections on Student Council as a Community Builder

  1. As a Quebecer I am often confused and saddened to observe what little value my American neighbours place on teachers and educational funding. I came across this site by an odd series of coincidences and didn’t want to leave it before giving praise to a wonderful communal effort. Guiding these young student leaders to discover that inclusive governance is both work and joy is a seed which will bear fruit for years to come. Thank you to all concerned. When you do good it touches people one can’t even envision. Continue to walk in the light. With love from a neighbour

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