The final bell has rung on a Friday afternoon, but a group of students aren’t done with their work yet. The middle schoolers make their way down to the 7th grade classroom for a student leadership meeting. There, they will start with prayer before launching into preparations for an upcoming service project.
At St. Patrick School, students embrace servant leadership and focus on how they can best help other people both near and far. All middle school students are invited to be part of the leadership team, and nine students make up the group’s core membership.
“It’s a really good group,” says 7th-grader Lisa Clevenger. “It helps me see the love of God spreading from place to place.”
The group’s advisor, middle school teacher Nikki Kevic, describes it as students following their heartstrings. “If you want to see hearts in action, there is no better place than this afterschool program,” she says.
Departure from Traditional Student Leadership Model
For years, St. Patrick School used a more traditional leadership model in which students ran for office. However, the system had two shortcomings.
First, having schoolwide elections inherently put some students at a disadvantage. Younger students were likely to vote for whoever was a sibling of one of their classmates while older students generally favored their friends. “It was a popularity contest,” Kevic says.
Beyond that, having an elected student leadership group limited who could be involved. The school wanted to encourage more students to participate in leadership activities and so the traditional model was scrapped and the current group was established after a few years of trial and error.
“At one point in time, if you were in middle school, you were in student leadership,” Kevic notes. Then, it turned to into a lunchtime program in which participants would vote for officers internally. However, that afforded limited time to get work done so it was eventually decided student leadership would meet every other Friday after school with all members being on equal ground and no officers.
It’s a system that has worked well, according to Kevic, and allows students to pursue their passions, whatever they may be.
School Year Filled with Student Led Service Projects
The student leaders at St. Patrick School have diverse interests, and it shows in the types of projects they have organized. They’ve collected care packages for veterans, fundraised for the women’s shelter at Degage Ministries, put on Christmas programs for church parishioners and collected books for Flat River Outreach Ministries. When they realized a younger student with cerebral palsy couldn’t use the existing playground swings, they raised money to buy a swing for him.
“Last year, we went to an animal shelter,” says 7th-grader Emma Morano. The group baked dog treats and delivered them along with other items. While there, they met with a shelter representative to learn more about their work.
During each holiday party, middle schoolers complete a service project organized by student leadership. Some projects have become tradition, such as decorating bags for Kids Food Basket during the Halloween party and helping with a program for parish seniors at Christmastime.
“We keep playing around with different ideas of who we can help with the Valentine’s Day parties,” Kevic says. This year, the group organized a Very Important Valentine – or VIV – Bingo game which raised approximately $265 for Degage Ministries.
Color awareness days have become another annual event initiated by student leadership. Several times each year, the school body is encourage to wear a specific color in recognition of conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, cerebral palsy and rare diseases. The hope is that these days will help raise student awareness of the health challenges faced by their schoolmates. When possible, student leadership tries to coordinate other activities to provide greater understanding of these conditions. For instance, in a past year, two students with diabetes talked to classes about their experiences during a diabetes awareness color day.
Lenten Activities at St. Patrick School
For Lent this year, student leaders created a tree in the cafeteria and are in the process of filling it with heart-shaped leaves.
“Our class cut out hearts and wrote everyone’s name [on them],” Emma says. Once the names of all St. Patrick School students were added, religious education students were asked to add their names. Parishioners are also invited to fill out a heart whenever they are in the parish center as well. The hope is that the tree will eventually be covered in hearts from people of all walks of life and demonstrate how we are all one parish and one family.
Beyond that, student leaders have two service projects planned for the Lenten months. Eighth-grader Meghan Trippany is leading efforts to collect shoes for the Trinitarian Sisters who will distribute as part of their missionary work. Meanwhile, fellow 8th-grader Finn Eardley suggested a project on behalf of God’s Kitchen, which serves hot meals daily to those in need.
“I was thinking we could go down to God’s Kitchen,” Finn says. However, the students are too young to help with food distribution so the leadership group is planning a late March fundraiser for the non-profit instead. School and parish families will be invited to come paint a bowl for a $10 donation. Participants will have the option to keep the bowl or donate it to Catholic Charities for their annual Soup’s On for All fundraiser.
Prayer Central to Good Leadership
A focus on prayer and God’s commands runs throughout everything the student leadership group does. Last year, the group joined Uprise, a Catholic organization which focuses on putting faith into action through works of mercy. St. Patrick students completed a workbook that included all 14 works of mercy and earned a medal for their efforts.
That was a favorite activity for Lisa. “I liked filling out the workbook,” she says. The students found ways to complete all the works of mercy, even those that may seem daunting. For instance, to fulfill the command to bury the dead, Lisa visits her grandfather’s grave and prays for him.
This year, the group is focused on earning a religious activities emblem which will have them completing a number of activities while learning about a saint. Plus, the group uses a workbook that helps them open each meeting with prayer and close it with reflection.
In the secular world, leadership is often equated with power and prestige. However, St. Patrick School is taking a different approach, one that relies on the example of Jesus washing the feet of his disciplines. Good leaders are not those who gain from their position but rather those who give from it. Based on the activities of the student leadership group, Parnell is home to great leaders in the making.