Student Councils at ASF: Driving action

Leadership is a foundational pillar in ASF’s mission to produce global citizens. Part of that mission is creating opportunities for student agency – allowing students to develop their own voices and drive change. This opportunity avails in the Lower, Middle and Upper schools here at ASF, through the student council boards. The student council (Stuco) lead their perspective constituencies by promoting service learning and cultivating school pride, while also giving members of student council opportunities for personal growth in leadership skills. As the academic year unfolds, several student leaders are eager to jump right in and put that agency to work.

At the Lower School, Juvenal López, Student Activity Specialist, supervises the LS’s student council. Open to grades 3, 4 and 5, the council consists of 24 classroom-elected students. Not every classroom has representation if students are not interested in participating; however, López says that is rare. Interested students fill out an application that requires a parent signature and a clearance from the Academic Dean, who ensures the student is in good academic standing. Once applications are submitted, López places the candidate’s name on their classroom ballot and the campaigning begins! Candidates create signs, shout slogans and deliver speeches all focused on how they would improve the LS. After the dust settles, elected students represent their class.

As the LS student council met for the first time on September 12, the room quickly filled with squeaky tennis shoes and squeaky voices ready to start the process. López outlined the rules of student council and clarified the responsibilities and expectations. Jordan Maas, Head of Lower School, addressed the wide-eyed group and matched López’s message, “I challenge you to be the example for other students through your words, choices and actions.” After the first meeting, López felt the students had “a clear understanding of what is expected.”

The roles of president, vice-president, treasurer, and secretary at the Lower School are only open to interested grade 5 students. Students repeat the campaign process with signs, slogans, and speeches on September 21. All students in grades 3, 4 and gather into the FAC to hear the candidates’ speeches. Next voting takes place and a new board is elected.

When all positions are settled and filled, López sets up a strong framework by leading and directing the council. As the year progresses, López releases his control and creates the opportunity for the student leadership to emerge. “They set the agenda. They run the meetings. They discuss their ideas with the Head - the students are in charge and take it seriously.” López shared.

In the Middle School, Diane Clement, Student Activity Specialist, and Josh Zoller, grade 8 grade Humanities teacher, co-sponsor the Middle School student council. Consisting of 12 students, the council is formed a bit differently from the LS. After the application process, candidates create videos for the position they desire. “The videos are really creative and speak to the issues the students want to see changed or improved in the Middle School,” says Zoller. Videos are shown to grade-level advocacies where students vote. The elections are held at the end of the year for the upcoming school year.

Although Zoller and Clement provide oversight for the MS council, he feels the student in student council is essential. “We set up the overall agenda and provide direction for discussion, but kids run the day to day.” The council meets every day during Advocacy, a period of time each day dedicated to student support.

Leading the day to day charge of the MS council is grade 8 student Ester Braun. She has served on student council since grade 5. Inspired by her older brother who did not necessarily like school events, Braun states she began her run to change that, “I have changed it a little but each year is getting better and better.” Braun expects to continue her work serving her fellow students throughout her ASF career and even beyond.

In the Upper School, Jennifer Byrnes is the new US Student Activity Specialist and provides oversight of student council. Comprised of 20 positions, students seeking election of the student council go through a thorough application process requiring them to gain permission from parents, develop a campaign video, gather signatures from 20 classmates, obtain two letters of recommendation from current staff, and compose a response addressing why they want to be a member of student council. Once the applications are vetted and grades reviewed, a general election is held per grade level after watching campaign videos during grade level assemblies. The US student council meets twice a week during Star Time, a period dedicated during the day for students to meet with teachers for extra support, group collaboration, or other meetings.   

The organizational structure of the US student council is different. While all levels maintain grade level representation with a president, vice-president, treasurer and secretary, four additional positions were created for the Coordinating Committee which oversees the entire council. Elyana Ramos is the president of this committee. She explains their role, “We work hand-in-hand with the student council and with Ms. Byrnes to plan all of the events that happen during the school year to increase school spirt… and strengthen the community values of the school.” They meet with Byrnes every day during Homeroom, which is held the first 10 minutes of the school day.   

Byrnes was anxious to work with a strong and established student council. “Many of these kids have tons of leadership experiences, so I did a lot of research and even created a Pinterest just for student council on how to develop their leadership.” Collaborating with Adam Smith, who assumed the new position of Service Learning Coordinator, Byrnes and Smith developed leadership workshops for student council and the Link Crew, another leadership organization. Smith explains the importance, “One of the most important things we do as educators at ASF is to develop strong leaders who are engaged and dedicated to their local community. “

In the future, Byrnes and Smith hope to expand this cultivation of leadership for the Upper School students by providing opportunities for continued growth. “My dream is to secure funds so that students can attend leadership conferences through the IB (International Baccalaureate), through National Student Council and others. Then have those students come back with new ideas to continue our growth here.” Byrnes even hopes to organize an international leadership conference here on the campus of ASF.

This dedication to improving ASF is what drives all three student councils. The resolve heard in campaign speeches and in videos speak to promises of ending bullying, creating a stronger more welcoming community, providing equity and protecting the environment. In council, meetings’ promises are measured and negotiated. Over time, through planning and organization programs are implemented.

This year in the Lower School elected candidates plan to negotiate for music during lunch for all grades, establish a dedicated table during lunch to promote a more welcoming environment and expand a bullying program where all can feel safe. Likewise, at the Middle School, elected candidates have an eye towards a more social and inclusive environment by planning “special days” where music is shared and planned events to include everyone. Also on the MS student council agenda is promoting a cleaner brunch and lunch program, where students police each other and themselves to leave the dining area cleaner. While at the US, student council is working hard to promote participation in the generation competitions, improve school spirit, develop healthier collaboration and communications between all stakeholders, and advocate for equity and fairness.

While the hard work of organization and implementation unfolds throughout the year, the benefits of the experience of leadership far outweigh the sacrifices these students make of their time. Dr. Smith explains, “At ASF, we envision leaders who will make positive contributions to their communities, and we rely on the budding leadership of our student council students to inspire their peers to make our community stronger.”  

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