By the middle schoolers, for the middle schoolers

Seventh and eighth graders gather in the commons to discuss their ideas for improving student morale

Middle school politics may get a bad rap, but the new student government at Sparta Middle School is working as a positive force.

The new legislature of civic-minded seventh and eighth graders say they put their names on the ballot to make a difference. It is the first student government Sparta Middle School has had in many years.

“I ran because I wanted to see a change in the school,” said eighth grader Troy Jones. “And I wanted every student to have a voice.”

Eighth grader Gregory Janesan makes sure inspirational sayings get put up in hallways

Eighth grader Bella Elliot was concerned about student morale.

“Something we need to work on is absenteeism. Last year we saw some statistics and it is pretty bad here,” she said. “If students have something special to look forward to, they will more likely come to school.”

“I wanted to be on the government, because so many people wanted things and I wanted to let (administrators) know what they wanted,” said seventh grader Justin Bradford.

Students wanted to be allowed to carry backpacks and/or cell phones into class, to have middle school dances, hold fundraisers, wear hats, have longer breaks and have music during breaks.

Social studies teacher Mar Higgins volunteered to start the government when a survey revealed students had little voice in what was happening at Sparta Middle School. Last spring students were informed about the plan, and given the opportunity to run for office.

“I patterned it after our federal government,” said Higgins. Students serve as  president, vice president, secretary and treasurer in the executive branch; two elected students from each grade are in the Senate and one elected representative from each seminar classes (similar to homeroom) is in the House of Representatives.

Members got busy this fall with a series of surveys to assess what their classmates were hoping they would accomplish. 

Eighth graders Gregory Janesan and Alyssa Harrigan compare thoughts on Spirit Week details

On the Agenda

Event planning took top priority. Every Sparta school celebrates Homecoming week, which is early in the first semester. The elected officials concentrated on spirit week, setting up timetables for special events, deciding on competitions and games to determine the grade winner of this year’s “Sparty Cup.”

Plans are also under way for $1 charity days and an after-school dance/mixer.

An on-going project, also already undertaken, is creating and posting positive self esteem messages throughout the building on windows, doorways, restrooms and hallways.

Seventh graders Tyler Pangborn and Justin Bradford discuss details

Another task for the student governors is to plan positive initiatives and bring common student complaints to administrators. The goal is to solve issues in a way that’s a win for students and administrators, said Higgins. “This allows students voice and leadership opportunities.”

Student government officials will put together a list of common ‘wants’ — such as using cell phones in class — from the surveys collected, discuss some of common items and present arguments to building administrators.

“I think it is always important to hear student voice in any setting,” said Middle School Principal Brad Wood. “but especially in middle school where they are learning to be leaders and good citizens.”

Middle School principal Brad Wood steps in to take a peek at the group’s work
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Janice Holst
Janice Holst 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 is thrilled to spend 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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