The Parents Council of Washington hosted the Middle School Student Leader Breakfast on Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at the Potomac School. Fifty-four seventh grade students representing Parents Council member schools were invited to attend this event. Each student was accompanied by an administrator, teacher or counselor from his or her school.
The students participated in a moderated large group discussion on important topics and then continued sharing their insights in smaller group settings. The administrators and faculty members participated in an informative session on facilitating meetings and open dialogues which was led by Jerry Kountz, the Intermediate School Head at Potomac.
Betsy Mandel, Parents Council Board member and Past President, welcomed all of the students and administrators to the Middle School Student Leader Breakfast. She thanked the Potomac School for hosting this unique program for the third year and introduced Jerry Kountz, the Intermediate School Head. Mr. Kountz welcomed all of the attendees and congratulated the students on their selection to represent their school at this important Middle School program. He noted that this forum is a great opportunity for all of the participants to have meaningful conversations about what is happening in our schools and how we can work together to improve our school communities. Following an overview of the two simultaneous sessions that were planned for the students and the administrators, he introduced Michael Fishback, a Humanities teacher in the Intermediate School, who served as the Moderator for the student session.
Mr. Fishback gave a warm welcome to all of the students and encouraged them to actively engage in the discussions during both the large and small group sessions. As rising eighth grade students in schools throughout the Washington, D.C. area, the students are in a position to affect change and positively influence the students and adults at their schools. It is important for the students to share the common concerns of their peers and also to collaborate on ideas and suggestions that they can then bring back to their school communities.
To begin the large group discussion, Mr. Fishback asked a series of questions and asked the students to “Get Up and Move” to another chair in the circle and then speak to the new students seated next to you. The questions included:
- Your family has a pet that is not a dog.
- You traveled somewhere within the U.S. over spring break this year.
- You have performed for an audience in the past year.
- You have attended a school other than your current school.
- You have at least one really good teacher this year.
- You have a friend who felt stress in the past week.
- You chat online on a regular basis.
- You have a good system for your own time management.
- You have ever witnessed someone being bullied or excluded.
- Your school has “cliques” of any kind.
- You had a disagreement with a parent in the last week.
For some of these questions, Mr. Fishback asked the students to share their Middle School experiences with the entire group. The issues and challenges the students described were focused in five major areas. These discussion topics were:
- Good time management both at school and at home
- Meeting their teachers’ expectations
- Maintaning the trust and respect of their parents
- Managing the expectations of their parents and coping with stress
- Managing their social life including issues such as cliques, friendships and dating.
Students spoke of the challenges of organizing their daily schedules so that they are able to complete all of their assignments and prepare for upcoming tests. Some students felt that the academic workload is becoming more difficult and teachers are not always realistic in the amount of homework each student can manage given their other extra-curricular activities. Parents encourage their children to excel in all of their classes which can create stress both at school and at home. The students want to meet their parents’ expectations, but feel that their parents do not always understand the complexities of their daily lives. In addition, the students commented on the many distractions that they need to manage, including television and the internet.
Another important aspect of their Middle School experience is the dynamics of their social lives and friendships. Many of the students shared that their social life impacts their focus in school. Their friendships are constantly changing and they are developing relationships with their peers that are not as directly influenced by their parents as when the students were younger. Some students expressed their desire to become more independent and take more responsibility for their own schedules and school work. Several students indicated that they were aware of bullying in their grade at school, and others commented that exclusion represents bullying as well. Throughout the large group discussion it was evident that the friendships that the students share play a significant role in their Middle School lives.
Following the large group discussion, Mr. Fishback asked the students to form smaller groups and to then discuss these five important topics in two small group sessions. The students shared their ideas and suggestions with one another without an adult moderator and then one student presented a brief summary of their small group discussion to the entire group of students.
During the student session, Mr. Kountz along with Barbara Pommer, the Potomac Middle and Intermediate School Counselor, conducted a workshop session with the administrators and faculty members who accompanied the student delegates. The program was designed to offer guidance on facilitating effective meetings. To illustrate the concept, Mr. Kountz asked each administrator to consider “Six Thinking Hats.” Each colored hat represents a way of thinking and “when we change our hats, we change our thinking.” He described the “Six Thinking Hats” as follows:
- White – data, figures, information
- Red – feelings, emotions, intuition
- Yellow – values, benefits, positive usefulness
- Black – cautions, dangers, problems, weakness
- Green – creativity, novel ideas
- Blue – process thinking – leader of meeting
By considering each of these styles of thinking, participants will be able to keep meetings focused and more efficient. It also allows individuals to express their emotions at the appropriate times in a nonthreatening setting. Meetings will become more productive and participants will be less likely to think negatively on a specific topic of discussion.
To conclude the Middle School Student Leader Breakfast, all of the students and the administrators and staff members joined the Parents Council Board members to share closing remarks. Lisa Jobe and Laurie Kirk, the PCW Middle School Student Leader Breakfast Co-Chairs, thanked everyone for their participation. Each of the attendees was encouraged to take ideas and suggestions back to their schools to benefit their Middle School communities.