At Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School, even the littlest voices have a say.
Involvement leads to ownership, which results in stewardship. That's the idea behind establishing a student council system at the school this year.
"One of my goals is creating opportunities for more student participation and voice. This is a venue to do that. It's a way of getting more students involved in decision-making," Principal Melissa Linton said.
The idea was tested last spring when the school was planning a playground renovation. Linton and school staff had participated in Langford Quality Learning training through the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, which emphasizes the benefits of involving students in their education by giving them more responsibility, accountability and authority.
Students brainstormed -- from slides to swings and a climbing wall -- and staff helped organize the results into the most feasible, agreed-upon ideas. With the success of that process Linton and staff formalized a student council system.
A president, vice president and secretary are elected from the fifth and sixth grades. Students run for election, make poster boards, come up with campaign slogans and give a speech to fellow students, who then vote. In addition, every class has a council representative who serves a quarterly term, so four students in each class get a chance to participate.
When a decision needs to be made, the representatives gather the wishes of their class and represent them in the council, which works in conjunction with the school administration and parent-teacher association.
"Every kid in the school is getting a voice in what they're doing. The ideas start really big and then we weed it down using the process," Linton said.
Through the council process the school decided on community service projects to do throughout the year. At Thanksgiving students raised money to give 20 K-Beach families gift certificates for a holiday meal. The younger grades maintain a birthday board for the school, while middle grades are in charge of collecting and counting box tops. They've held canned food and blanket drives, will do a trash pickup in May and are doing a Pennies for Japan fundraiser.
"It helps the climate of the school with kids taking ownership," Linton said. "In the future I'd like to see it used for problem solving. If we're having a problem with, say, vandalism in the bathroom. They can help with education about what vandalism is, why it happens and how we can prevent it from happening."
Students also get to weigh in on the rewards that come from being good citizens. The school holds a Caribou Celebration at the end of each quarter, where students who did their personal best get to participate in a fun activity, which is now chosen by the student body.
"We got the kids together and every kid hot-dotted (a tool used in the Langford method) top choices for what they would like to see in a celebration. One kid said they wanted to take a school bus ride, another said having a petting zoo with caribou -- all kinds of ideas. We made a list of top-10 choices and took it to the PTA to see what was safe and monetarily feasible," Linton said.
Students have gone on a field trip to River City Cheer, had a sledding activity and made tie-dye shirts.
"They're getting leadership skills, learning how to work on a timeline, be responsible for showing up. They're learning community service and being helpful," Linton said. "And it's been really nice to see the big kids help the little kids make decisions. It's great to see the whole (kindergarten) through six span of decision-makers, and that even the little kids, their voice counts, too."
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