Have you ever wondered why there is not an elected student government in Middle School? In the D-E Middle School we want as many students as possible to have an opportunity to lead. We know that our students will be leaders in the world and want to help them feel empowered to take action and to help them develop their leadership skills. So, we offer a range of leadership opportunities throughout the year. Some opportunities are offered up for wide volunteerism during Monday Morning Meeting, are created in HomeBase groups, or spring from projects in classes across the curriculum. In other cases, deans or faculty members may reach out to students who have been nominated by their advisors. This spring, students are serving on committees such as SEEK (which plans the 8th grade overnight) and the service learning committee, training to become “buddies” who welcome new students to the school, and planning our field day events for the last day of school.
Research and experience have shown us that middle school student elections are often popularity contests and usually give just a few students most of the leadership opportunities. We look to build the confidence and skills of all the students, not just a select few. To this end, we want students to play an active role in shaping their community, to take responsibility for their environment, and to cultivate leadership skills and the habit of stepping up.
As students move through the Middle School, the overall program challenges students to clarify their understanding of ideas and information, and it presents them with experiences that cultivate their ability to articulate their ideas — often a first step in taking a leadership role. We want to help them discover things they care about and act for positive change without waiting for someone to elect them to it. We guide them in understanding the logistics of taking action and supporting a cause.
Projects such as 8th grade “MaD” (Making a Difference), in which students research a current issue they care about and prepare a persuasive proposal of a solution to a problem, is a good example. In another forum, regular HomeBase activities, such as the recent “Intent vs Impact” discussions, help students reflect on how their daily actions and words impact their community and invite them to act in specific ways out of that new understanding. Other leadership-skills cultivation opportunities are optional, such as the invitation we extend to all students to design and launch a new club during activities period. This last example offers students the experience of working through a protocol in order to realize their idea.
There are formal, more active types of leadership, and there are less formal, more everyday types of leadership. At D-E, both types are emphasized and taught through our advisory program, grade meetings and discussions, assembly program and in many other ways as well. While specific formal opportunities vary by grade, they generally increase as students become older, culminating with a rich variety of committee, club, event, curriculum and general planning leadership opportunities in 8th grade. Some of the more formal leadership committees students can volunteer for in middle school include the Arts Council, the Pep Rally Committee, and the Honor Code Committee, to name a few. Students also take a leadership role as Admissions Buddies, Open House Guides, sports team captains, and in the service learning projects coordinated at each grade level.
Student choice and voice is very important to us, and it shows. To be a middle schooler at D-E is to have an active role in shaping your own experience and the experiences of your classmates. Cultivating leadership and nurturing skills and habits of leadership is a thread that runs through everything we do. Opportunities to practice leadership at every level of skill and commitment are available to all because this is a community of future leaders whom we expect to “meet the challenge of a changing world and make it better.”