After the final votes were tallied, in a group of 45 students vying for four student council seats at Fair Oaks Elementary School, sixth grader Josh Fewell, fifth graders Mason Barnes and Hunter Falconi, and fourth grader Joseph Fewell were elected as officers.
Vice Principal Janet Hamby created the student leadership program, now in its fourth year, after stepping into the administrative role at Fair Oaks. Previously, Hamby taught and had been the advisor to the student council at Cloverland.
“I am proud of the hard work that Mrs. Hamby has put into building such a successful student council at Fair Oaks,” said Fair Oaks Principal David Kindred. “This is a considerably larger number (of candidates) than the first year, which shows how this has become an indelible part of the school climate.”
The largest group of students who ran for election this year was fourth graders for the Sergeant At Arms position, which is only open to that grade level. Only fourth through sixth graders are involved in student council. Each classroom also selects two representatives to be present at the monthly meetings. Hamby said that many students look forward to moving into the fourth grade because it is then that they can become involved in student council.
“It has grown,” she said. “It was just a handful of candidates when I first came here.”
She added that the first year there were about 15 students who ran, then it grew by approximately 10 more students each year.
Hamby said that being a part of student council, as well as being a classroom representative, helps students develop their leadership skills and put them to a productive use. Before they run for office, she meets with the candidates to explain the responsibilities of leadership. She tells them that being a leader doesn’t happen only at school, it’s also when they’re out in the community and everywhere they go. She said they always need to be aware that they are representing the school.
“I believe the student council serves to make our school a better place on many levels,” Kindred added. “It provides for student involvement, character building, and serves as a cornerstone for an introduction to leadership.”
The students made posters and campaigned for a week, but couldn’t distribute items of monetary value, such as candy or pencils. Some wore T-shirts with messages about who to vote for that day.
Students were also required to give candidacy speeches in an assembly for all Fair Oaks fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. In all, the assembly was only about 40 minutes as there were varying levels of speeches. Some speeches were very brief, but others were more prepared.
Hamby said that the students were not allowed to make false promises in their speeches, but several of them talked about making the campus cleaner, brought up ideas for recycling, having more fun spirit days, and more.
“I’m so proud of them for taking the initiative — and the bravery — for doing what they’re doing,” Hamby said, noting that when she was that age, she wouldn’t have been able to get up in front of the crowd to speak.
She added that the student audience was also very polite and respectful to the speakers, as well as tuned in to what they were saying.
“Mrs. Hamby does an excellent job of preparing the candidates for running for office as well as giving their individually prepared speeches,” Kindred said. “It really makes you proud to see all of the work that these students put forth.”
Following the speeches, ballots were distributed in the classrooms. Hamby had also put together a PowerPoint presentation with photos and names of students running for each office for teachers to show on their classroom Smart Boards. She said that option served to help the younger students remember who was who.
“All the races were pretty close,” Hamby said, adding that the President position was separated by just seven votes.
Kindred reported that during the recent election he heard students in the lower grades comment on how they “know people” running for office and that the process builds school spirit on a school wide level.
Hamby noted that the student council at Fair Oaks helps those elected students with their organizational skills and it is very service-learning motivated.
“Seeing them serve in the community also develops them to think beyond their world, that they can make a difference.”
Some examples of that include organizing a Relay for Life team to benefit the American Cancer Society. For the past two years, Fair Oaks has been second and third in youth fundraising for Oakdale’s Relay. The council also coordinates a campus-wide effort called “Holiday in a Shoebox” where classrooms fill shoeboxes with necessities for less fortunate boys and girls during the holidays. They also head up the can collections and food drives.
Other responsibilities for the council include performing morning announcements, planning monthly special spirit days, and planning the sixth grade party at the end of the year.
To be in student leadership, the students must have a C average and good citizenship. Those elected must take an oath of office and learn parliamentary procedure to run the meetings.
“The meetings are run in similar fashion to a school board meeting or a city council meeting,” Kindred said. “They maintain a high level of professionalism and are very effective.”