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Leadership Spreads Through District by Way of Student Connections

High School Students Teach Skills to Younger Classes

A pink rubber ball flew from student to student in the Nickels Intermediate School fifth-grade classroom. As students caught it, they announced something that makes themselves unique: their likes, dislikes, characteristics, talents.

“I’m unique because I’m the youngest,” said student Mackenzie Doolittle, who then relaunched the ball toward a classmate, ready to hear something interesting about her.

Ten Principles of Servant Leadership

  • Listening (to self and others)
  • Empathy (understanding)
  • Healing (search for wholeness of self and others)
  • Awareness (of self and of others)
  • Persuasion (building consensus)
  • Conceptualization (dreams and of day-to-day operations)
  • Foresight (intuitive ability to learn from past and see future consequences of action)
  • Stewardship (working for the good of society)
  • Commitment to Growth (personal, professional, spiritual of self and others)
  • Building Community (benevolent, humane, philanthropic, to benefit others

Source: Greenleaf Centre for Servant Leadership

Classmates went on to name their idiosyncrasies, like their peculiar love for lima beans and Brussels sprouts.

Byron Center Public Schools High School junior Deanna Lee and seniors Eleesa Bever and Alexis Deacon announced what makes them different too. The teenage girls were leading the class in a “Bulldog Connections” activity, for which high-school students visit the fifth-and sixth-grade building to teach positive lessons and serve as good role models.

Around the school, classrooms bustled with activity as the older and younger students united to discuss “Uniqueness and Embracing the Differences We Have.” Other topics during the monthly visits between high school and Nickels students have centered on communication and gratefulness. High school students create all the lesson plans.

Connections Forming Districtwide

Since January, students in teachers Megan Soukup and Melissa Gallup’s Student Life and Leadership class have spent time at Nickels. This spring, they also launched “Countryside Connections,” a partnership with the district’s Countryside Elementary School third- and fourth-grade students.

Soukup and Gallup started the class this year, to teach servant leadership, which is based on several core values and putting the needs of others first. Fifty-two ninth-through-12th-graders are learning how to shape culture through communication, humility, motivation, passion and community, and then teaching those things to younger students.

It’s had an impact on senior Sarah Yugovich, who said she’s seen perceptions of teenagers changing, but the learning has gone both ways.

“From the Nickels students, I’ve learned about being yourself. They are just fun and they get along with each other,” she said. “We show them a better example of teenagers than you see on TV and in the media. A lot of times there’s such a negative image of teenagers being rude to their parent and teachers, and we are not like that.”

Sixth-grader Caden Shooltz and the older students are great examples of “being nice being respectful of one and other, and saying nice things to one and other.”

“It’s very inspiring and I feel that it encourages me to be a better person to my classmates and friends,” added sixth-grader Abbie Townley.

Nickels Intermediate School student Mackenzie Doolittle tells how she’s unique
Nickels Intermediate School student Mackenzie Doolittle tells how she’s unique

Developing Selfless Leaders

Soukup and Gallup see the class as a way to benefit many students.

“In my own life, leadership is a passion,” said Soukup, who is also a band director at the high school and at Nickels. “I was excited to have the opportunity to implement some of the leadership traits and skills I’ve learned over the years into a class.”

“I think younger students look up to the high school students as rock stars,” Gallup said, so seeing them behave with respect has a big impression.

“They can learn that’s how they can treat other students, by the golden role.”

The goal is to be selfless servant leaders, spreading their reach into all Byron Center Schools. One result of the class has been ending the school week by sharing kindnesses during Friendship Fridays.

Students used props to answer questions about themselves
Students used props to answer questions about themselves

Started by senior Nick Baker, business-style cards that state “Friendship Friday!” on one side along with the message “Help Show Random Acts of Kindness,” circulate the high school, West Middle School and Nickels Intermediate School every Friday, moving along from student to student who pass it forward along with small good deeds.

“It gives them perspective and pride for the entire public schools,” Soukup said. “They are able to go back and put themselves in those students’ shoes, and relate because they’ve been through it before.”

Freshman Steven Slentz said the connections go deep.

“The biggest thing is it goes both ways. Not only do they learn what we are teaching them we are constantly learning strengths of our own. I learn from them ways to communicate with them. The way they react helps me become a leader.”


Servant Leadership

School News Network article on Student Leader Nick Baker

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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