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Student councils learn to lead

Posted: Wednesday, October 04, 2000

Student government shoulders much of the responsibility for making school events happen. In the process, teen officials learn a lot about leadership and human relations.

To help them, the Kenai Peninsula School Activities Association sponsors an annual districtwide student council meeting. This year, it was Sept. 25 at Soldotna High School. About 150 students from seven schools attended.

"Because we have such a diverse borough, it is valuable for them to talk together," said Sharon Moock, the activities director at SoHi and sponsoring teacher for the get together.

This year the students found a lot to talk about, and some of it was controversial.

The complications began with a scheduling glitch. According to the schedule KPSAA outlined, the site of the gathering changes annually. This year, it was Nikiski Middle-Senior High School's turn. However, because the school had missed several meetings, KPSAA decided last spring to assign the meeting to SoHi.

But KPSAA forgot to notify the schools, Moock said.

SoHi found out a week before school started that it was hosting. The student council and students in Moock's leadership class stepped in to organize the event.

"It was a very interesting scenario," she said.

"If I hadn't had this wonderful group in the leadership class, we couldn't have done it. ... They are great kids. They did the lion's share of the work."

That work included setting up a series of workshops with professional speakers. The theme was "Understanding and Facilitating Today's Student Government."

Donna Peterson, superintendent of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, was the keynote speaker.

Leisl Sizemore, vice president of SoHi's student council, said she was particularly impressed by Peterson's point about elected leaders serving as role models.

"People look up to you," Sizemore said.

"We may not realize how much of an impact we have on students, but we have to keep that in mind when we're acting out."

Presenters included Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof; Jane Stein, a member of the Soldotna City Council; Suzanne Little, director of the Boys and Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula and school district personnel. The students praised the workshops as useful and interesting.

"Even some of the icebreakers they used to get people settled in where pretty cool," said Matt Burdick, senior class activities chair for Skyview High School.

Participants also praised the meeting of student council heads. It gave them opportunities to swap ideas and advice for staging successful events.

"We put on a lot of schoolwide activities. I think our goal is to make school a more fun place to be," said Kjersta Larson, president of the Kenai Central High School senior class.

"We are starting to get more recognition from the schools."

In addition to serving as role models and organizing school spirit events, the participants see student council functioning as an outlet for student concerns and a liaison between the school administration and student body.

However, the part of the meeting that really got students excited was the final session of the day, when the homecoming rivalries among the three big central peninsula high schools came up for discussion.

Students voiced concerns that pranks, name-calling and pilfering wooden pallets for the school bonfires got out of hand last month. Some businesses reported thefts of pallets; SoHi and Skyview teens nearly came to blows; and a Kenai Kardinal was burned in effigy at SoHi's bonfire.

The districtwide meeting was the first forum for representatives of the three schools involved to face each other. In a discussion Burdick described as "intense," the three schools aired grievances, while representatives from other towns urged reconciliation.

"That was definitely the most interesting part," said Quincy Bird, Nikiski's student body president.

"Rivalries are great, but when it turns negative, a line needs to be drawn," he said. "School spirit is running high all the way around. ... But heaven forbid anything tragic should happen."

The students present were unsure how effective student councils could be at directing student behavior but agreed that frank discussion and a districtwide approach were productive ways to tackle the problem. They also agreed that more work was needed, and the end of the meeting cut the discussion short.

"It was left hanging," Sizemore said.

Some of the same students will be heading off to an even bigger student council meeting soon: the statewide gathering of the Alaska Association of Student Govern-ment, scheduled for three days in Juneau beginning Oct. 12.

Larson, a veteran of several years of AASG conferences, said it would be a mixture of great fun and serious politicking, including votes on resolutions to pass to the state school board.

Such an experience is just one of many opportunities that inspire student leaders to aspire.

Bird cited the chance to speak in public, lead activities, gain confidence and build a resume as other pluses to involvement.

"I've gotten countless benefits out of being in student government," he said.



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