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A Day at the Top

Students Learn About Leadership Through Role-playing

It is never too early to practice leadership skills. At least that is the thought behind a recent Kent City Elementary School event, which featured three of its students as principal, vice principal and librarian for a day.

The three students chosen for the honor were the top three finishers in a recent walk-a-thon fundraising event. But the real lesson was to give the students a taste of leadership, said school librarian Sara Schutt, who organized the event.

Fourth-grader Dakota Riscili was named principal; kindergartner Mia Scholten, vice principal; and first-grader Ava Harlett, librarian. The three had a variety of responsibilities for the day, including greeting students, handing out materials and monitoring recess time.

“Are you starting to get the idea that principals have to be very aware of time?” asked Pamela Thomas, Kent City Elementary principal.

Dakota, Mia and Ava were enjoying a lunch of their choice in the teachers’ lounge when their conversations with each other and staff members were cut short, since it was nearly time to move on to the next duty.

“We are always making sure things stay on schedule,” Thomas told the leaders-for-a-day.

One of the goals of the program was to have the student leaders recognize that administrators take care of lots of people, said Schutt. The day’s agenda included giving a sweet snack to administrative assistants, preparing goodie bags for teachers and hand-delivering a small candy treat to each student.

Organizers of the event “recognize that this day lends itself to student empowerment,” said Schutt. “And we take the opportunity to talk about student voice.”

Student Wish List

One important task for the student leaders was to look at how students were feeling about their school, according to schutt.

Students in grades three through five were asked to fill out a brief survey designed to let them say what they like — or would like to change — about their school.

The three “For a Day” leaders went classroom to classroom collecting the surveys. The ideas were discussed at a nine-member board meeting, which included a few other students and their mentors Thomas, Vice Principal Will Lepech and Schutt.

Among the things listed for “liking Kent City school” were opportunities to meet lots of friends, its emphasis on books, and good teachers.

Wishes for a better school included air conditioning, individual lockers and a desire for less writing assignments.

Some, like fourth-grader Catie — last names were not used — couldn’t think of a way to improve it. “I wouldn’t change anything about my school,” Catie said. “It is just perfect the way it is.”

Students were also asked for specific ideas for school improvement. “One idea that I have for improving Kent City Elementary School is using more technology and less paperwork,” said fourth-grader Ayden.

Another student, Aryanna, who is in fifth grade, asked for an “after-school event to have students come and help clean up the environment.”

“It is always great to hear what our students are thinking about,” said Thomas, pointing out a particular favorite about T-shirts for a particular event. “We may implement some of the ideas we got from the surveys.”

Ava Harlett really enjoyed being a librarian for the day, helping to check out books and doing the daily “read-aloud” part of her duties. But it is clear that she is aiming for another job in the field of education. She told her father, “Next year, I am going to raise more money, so I can be the principal.”

Dakota Riscili, principal for the day, and Ava Harlett, librarian for the day talk over the day’s events with Principal Pamela Thomas and others

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst is a reporter covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio or email Janice.


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