Many students at St. Paul’s Lutheran School have a natural inclination for leadership and responsibility, and a move to start the school’s first student council is providing formal opportunities for them to apply their skills.
First-year principal Larry Wooster told the Pilot-Tribune & Enterprise that teachers suggested the idea and created an application process that required students to fill out paperwork and gain approval from their teacher. Selected students crafted posters and campaigns, and gave speeches to their classmates, who voted for a president and vice president, secretary, and a representative for 3rd/4th, 5th/6th, and 7th/8th grades.
“One of the fears with something like this is it becomes a popularity contest and we tried to not make it that,” Wooster said, adding that he believes students voted wisely. Jamey Rhea, an 8th-grader and new student council president, is a good example, he said.
“He has always been a good leader, but I don’t know if he’s had the opportunity to use that leadership in a formal environment,” Wooster said. “It gives him more structure and the opportunity to practice leadership skills he already has, but in a different way.”
Rhea is joined by vice-president Emma Misfeldt, secretary Carisa Brazelton, 7th/8th-grade rep Luke Hammang, 5th/6th rep Brooke Hilgenkamp, and 3rd/4th rep Erika Krusikshank, according to the news site.
“If [the faculty] had chosen representatives, these are probably the students we would have chosen,” Wooster said.
The principal said the group is already off to a good start, helping take on projects that were previously left to teachers. The students have also organized special dress up days and the school’s Lutheran Schools Week celebration in January. “We had a pretty big hand in the Veterans Day ceremony,” Rhea said.
Wooster said students have already gained valuable experiences through public speaking, organizing, and working together, and he believes the group’s creativity will eventually help tackle issues outside of school.
“I’d like to see them come up with suggestions for new playground equipment and service projects,” Wooster said. “They may come up with service projects we have not thought of that would give them the opportunity to serve the community.”
St. Paul’s new student council mirrors the approach of pedagogical schools studied by David Sikkink, whose findings appear in The Content of Their Character.
Editors James Davison Hunter and Ryan S. Olson, with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, noted that these schools “teach character and citizenship through experiential learning opportunities such as ‘town meetings,’ student government, grade-level meetings with administrators, and practices that fostered mutual commitment to every student’s success.”
St. Paul’s is a school that rests on its religious foundation, while also incorporating elements of pedagogical schools that allow students a formal venue to practice leadership and encourages their desire to improve their school and community.
“I wanted to help the school before I leave for high school,” vice-president Emma Misfeldt said.
The National Association of Student Councils (NatStuCo) provides a framework for student councils to develop civic action plans that clearly define community needs, action recommendations, and action steps, as a way for leaders like the students at St. Paul’s to make their schools a better place.