There’s no reason for first-graders and kindergartners to fear the “big kids” at Great Bend’s Lincoln Elementary School.
Two fifth-graders and one sixth-grader spoke confidently Wednesday about “meeting the criteria” and being accepted to their student council. They are also part of Pride Families where students of all grade levels meet weekly. The “Pride” moniker reflects the school mascot of the Lincoln Lions as well as pride in the school.
Jose Arias, the school’s family engagement coordinator, said serving on the StuCo promotes leadership skills that will prepare students for middle school and beyond.
Fifth- and sixth-graders who wanted to be on the council had to fill out an application that included a parental consent form and a letter of recommendation from a teacher. If they met the criteria, Arias scheduled an interview before a three-person roundtable, explaining that successful members have to be able to work in a group. A week after the interviews, they either received a letter of acceptance or a letter of denial.
“It really gives them a foresight of what they will be engaging in if they continue to be part of StuCo or any other clubs they want to join in middle school or high school,” Arias said. “The practice starts now, so they’ll be able to use their communication skills better and feel comfortable doing it.”
That includes public speaking engagements, which started Wednesday when three StuCo members spoke to the USD 428 Board of Education. They prepared by giving presentations among themselves when they voted for officers, and now they’re ready to serve as Lincoln ambassadors, he said.
Lincoln Principal Misty Straub said Arias has revitalized the school’s StuCo.
“We have lots of kids that have wonderful leadership capabilities,” she said. “(He) wanted to put these kiddos in a position where they can utilize those leadership positions and create opportunities for them during the school year to use those leadership abilities.”
The StuCo also raises money to do fun things, and it’s involved in community service.
Arias said he wanted to have 15 fifth- and sixth-graders on the StuCo, but ended up with 20. “We had over 45 applicants,” he said. “My number was 15 but I had five more that I just couldn’t say no to.”
The three students who spoke Wednesday were joined by three younger students. Their “little buddies” are part of another school feature, the Lions’ Pride Family.
Arias said his intention is to create a school where students feel they are part of the same “family.” There are 17 groups, each with 15-16 students from kindergarten through sixth grade.
“This year, we wanted to really encourage and create a family culture of inclusivity,” Arias said. “We want to make sure that our sixth-graders can work well and don’t intimidate our kindergartners. Sometimes you will hear kindergartners say, ‘I don’t want to go down sixth-grade hall because I’m scared of those kids.’ That should never happen anyplace, because we’re all in the same building.”
Pride Families started in September and meet once a month, typically on the last Friday.
“That’s going to help us create that bond between our uppers and our lowers,” Arias said. “And it’s pretty good because the kids love working with the older kids. They get a chance to meet kids they haven’t met or make a connection with a kid they thought they wouldn’t be able to. This creates that family culture that includes everyone. They see them as role models.”
A kindergartner named Al told the board what he likes about his group.
“In Pride Family, we meet together and do a lot of stuff. We get used to the bigger kids, and it’s a lot better in this group.”
Another student, a first-grader, told the board, “One thing the Pride Family is about is being a role model for the little kids and being respectful to your teacher.”
The six students who attended the meeting were all boys. When a school board member asked if there are also girls in the StuCo, Arias assured her there are several. Students were scheduled for benchmark tests on Wednesday and he chose those who were free.