Student Ambassadors will lead to make a difference
“We want to make people’s impossibles into I’m Possibles,” a District 54 student said.
“It’s about making sure everyone knows that teachers and other students care,” another student responded.
A third student shared that they want to have a voice. This is the main reason for the creation of the new District 54 Student Ambassador program.
District 54’s Professional Learning Center was abuzz with animated conversation one day this fall as students discussed a question posed to them by District 54 Instructional Coach Ming Shelby.
The question: What should the district’s new Student Ambassador program look like?
The answers came from the Student Ambassadors themselves, students from all District 54 junior high schools and Lincoln Prairie School who were gathered for a full-day training to kick off the program.
“As part of our commitment to supporting whole child academic and social-emotional success, we are focusing on better addressing the needs of our adolescent students,” Superintendent Andy DuRoss said. “Research tells us that the best path to minimizing bullying and motivating adolescents is teaching and empowering the students to lead this work.”
This year our junior high schools and Lincoln Prairie middle level students will have six area of focus, which will be supported with guest speakers, assemblies and student-led initiatives. These are
- Be Your Best Self in September,
- Bully Prevention Month in October,
- Kindness in November/December,
- Digital Citizenship in January/February,
- Happiness Month in March and
- Change for the Betterment of Mankind – Celebrating Service in April/May.
The Student Ambassadors will be leading and championing this work. Their current focus is planning activities around kindness for November and December.
In January all of the Student Ambassadors will meet again to report on the work they have done.
Learning to lead
Principals selected Student Ambassadors for their school who possess leadership qualities and are influential among their peers, and the first workshop was structured to empower the Student Ambassadors to use their voices to lead.
“We know our adolescent students have unique needs when it comes to social-emotional learning,” said Dr. Erin Knoll, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. “They are so connected to each other that they sometimes influence each other more than adults do, so we asked ourselves how do we make their message powerful? How do we build student leaders?”
The students were eager to collaborate on their vision for the Student Ambassador program during the training, which became the basis for the group’s mission statement:
I promise that I will faithfully execute the position of Student Ambassador and be a positive leader who gives my personal best and works with others to help and support everyone. I promise to be open to new ideas, be accepting of others, and stay true to myself and my school in order to provide service to all.
“They had some great ideas for how they wanted the program to look,” Shelby said. “How do we make a great school greater? How do you make everyone feel safe, that they belong, and that they’re supported? This is the core of our social-emotional learning curriculum.”
The students reflected on their personal characteristics, ranking on a scale from 1 to 10 where they are in various areas related to communication and relationships and personal and social emotional skills. The areas include friendliness/openness with others, looking for the good in people and situations, collaborating with others, and personal integrity/honesty. The goal is for students to grow in these areas throughout the year as they focus on being positive role models for their peers.
“We learned how to become leaders in our class more than we already are,” said Shiven, a Lincoln Prairie Student Ambassador.
“The training showed there is always a positive side to everything, and that many of us are similar in many ways – it was about expanding our learning for ourselves and our community,” Patty, another Lincoln Prairie Student Ambassador, said.
One powerful exercise during the training demonstrated how fear keeps people in comfort zones instead of “learning zones.” Shelby donned a paper tunic with the word FIMAGE – fear of image – written on it and tore pieces off to illustrate what happens to our fear when we take the leap and join a new club, ask a question in class, or do something else that we are afraid might affect how people see us. Shelby carefully folded the small piece of paper that remained, and students gasped in surprise as she held it up to reveal a heart with the word ME in the center.
Other activities at the training included a review of key character qualities including integrity, commitment and ownership, as well as a school culture survey. Students reflected on the current culture of their school, what the ideal culture of their school would be and how they could welcome all voices to best represent their school.
“I’m excited to be a person who can help students improve themselves, but also improve as a community, and I’m excited to help lead that out,” said Isabella, a Lincoln Prairie Student Ambassador.
Nyla, an Eisenhower Student Ambassador, said she is looking forward to helping make decisions that will impact her peers.
“We know what our peers are thinking, so we can collaborate and make things better for them,” she said. “As one we might be small, but being a part of this made me feel we can make a difference and we each have a voice.”
Students said they enjoyed getting together with their junior high peers from around District 54 to collaborate rather than compete. They also said they appreciated the opportunity to hear what is happening at other schools.
The Student Ambassadors, school leadership and Student Ambassador facilitators at each school meet monthly to determine what their group wants to accomplish at their school and how to carry forward what they learned at their training.
“I’m excited to get involved in the school environment around me, and to know that my opinion matters — that I have a voice and my voice matters,” said Rylee, a Student Ambassador at Eisenhower Junior High. “I can help other students with my voice.”
For example, at their October meeting, Eisenhower Student Ambassadors discussed ways to spread kindness and happiness at their school. They decided to wear blue, the color that represents bullying prevention, to the school’s Stand for the Silent anti-bullying assembly (each school held an assembly with Kirk Smalley and Stand for the Silent in October). The Eisenhower Student Ambassadors also created a bulletin board to promote anti-bullying and came up with an anti-bullying song, changing the lyrics to Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass.”
Because you know I’m all about that kindness, ‘bout that kindness, no bullies. I’m all about that kindness ‘bout that kindness no bullies, no bullies.
Yeah it’s pretty clear bullies ain’t cool but I can show ya, show ya, what you’re supposed to do, ‘cause I got that happiness all the teachers like and all the right niceness in all the right places.
Eisenhower Principal Heather Wilson said she is always looking for student perspectives, and the Student Ambassador program is an excellent way to facilitate that.
“We want our kids to know we are listening, and that their voices matter,” Wilson said. “These students are connected to so many Eisenhower groups, and they will lead out this culture of caring and compassion within our school.”