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Menahga School starts elementary student council

Menahga's grade school student council. (Submitted photo)

By Nick Longworth

The Menahga School District now has a new group of leaders, Menahga Elementary School’s own Students Working As a Team (SWAT).

This past fall, Elementary Principle Ariana Wright and elementary school staff began discussion on ways in which teachers and staff could impact students while also enriching student learning. Through their discussion, and after the review of student data, goals were created in four strategic areas: student achievement, intervention and support, technology, and school climate.

In December, the elementary school leadership team then reviewed the goals created previously. Ultimately they decided it was time to create a program that would facilitate action and foster involvement from the student body.

“In the area of ‘school climate’ we focused on creating an environment of significance, belonging and fun for each student. I invited interested staff to a planning and brainstorming session; Michelle Koch, Jennifer Hildebrant and Christine Lake attended and wrote a plan to start a student council. These teachers represent all grade levels and embody the leadership and spirit I was hoping our students would follow. The staff thought about how we could incorporate students in shaping our school climate and the student council idea was born,” said Ariana Wright.

In their initial proposal for approval of the student council from the Menahga School Board, staff said, “We know that students who are connected to one another, and who feel empowered in decision-making processes, generate a more positive environment around them. We want to give our elementary students opportunities for personal and social growth beyond the standard classroom walls.”

The proposal went on to say that “the purpose of the Menahga Elementary Student Council would be to strive for good citizenship, respect all individuals in the school and community, involve all students in sharing ideas to make the school be the best it can be, promote school spirit, give all students practice in democracy and provide services to groups in the school and the community.”

Once approved by the Menahga School Board, election season was in full-swing at Menahga Elementary. In order to have a student council fully operational, representatives were needed.

“Each grade level did things a bit differently. For the most part, students who were interested ran a campaign in their classroom. They had to create a platform and explain to their classmates why they would be a good representative to the student council. The classroom teachers discussed a democratic voting system and held classroom elections,” said Michelle Koch, a second grade teacher at Menahga Elementary and also a member of the Menahga Elementary Student Council Leadership Team (composed of herself and Jennifer Hildebrant).

“We have an elected representative from each classroom grades 4-6 along with two “teacher chosen” representatives from 5th and 6th grade. We will meet two or three times per month depending on what events the team has planned,” Koch said.

After election, inaugural members of SWAT became ambassadors for not only their classroom, but their grade and school as well.

“Students came to the first few meetings with piles of post-it notes with ideas on them. Our SWAT members talked with their classmates and really listened to what other students were saying. These ideas then have become the action items for SWAT. As we grow this group, we will generate a set of goals for each year based on that,” Koch said.

Now officially seated in their appointed positions, these SWAT students will begin to organize and plan school and community events based largely on the goals and objectives they have created under the influence of the very same peers that elected them.

Essentially, the SWAT is many students first time experiencing real-life working politics.

“The (SWAT) students share their goals and objectives. All events and plans that happen now are suggested by other students with Ms. Hildebrandt and Mrs. Koch facilitating the planning and implementation of events; they are the connection between students and staff,” Wright said.

“SWAT began by hosting a Read-a-Thon on February 28th to celebrate ‘I Love to Read’ month. Each grade level worked toward reading a certain number of pages per student. If everyone met the goal, then the teachers would swap classrooms for part of a day (as a reward). The students met their goal, and on March 13th all teachers swapped to another classroom for about an hour while Wright and Superintendent Mary Klamm also swapped jobs. The best part about this event is that it was completely student created and organized,” Hildebrant said.

“Even as a new organization, our SWAT students are taking on leadership roles within the school. They will be organizing a food drive for March as a way to reach out to the community. We are planning for a week-long “Sick of Winter” week during the end of March with special days and an activity day hosted by the 4th -6th Graders. We will also host the annual Elementary Food Drive, and a writer or author workshop,” Hildebrant said.

Only a month old, the staff that have worked closely with the SWAT program already see the benefits producing fruitfully within their student body.

“The creation of a student council has allowed our students to grow as leaders and influence the positive culture of our school. In addition to these fun and community outreach events, our SWAT has already shown their leadership in supporting our positive school culture. Students are able to talk with SWAT team members and feel heard in a way they haven’t before and our students are already seeing the results of the SWAT planning. There is an excitement; they are already bringing significance, belonging and fun to our school each day,” Wright said.  

“I have noticed how much more invested our students are when they know that they have representatives to talk to about issues. The benefits for the students elected to the SWAT, as well as, all students in the elementary are visible in the classrooms, halls, lunchroom and the playground. We are bringing a sense of teamwork and student leadership to our school. As the principal, I am very pleased by the student leadership skills being honed by this new group. I see this positive culture continuing to grow and make Menahga Elementary an even better place to learn.”

Nick Longworth
A graduate from St. Cloud State University, Nick photographs and writes a variety of stories for nearly every section of The Park Rapids Enterprise. His duties also include section layouts and online content submission.
(218) 732-3364