Steamboat Springs When Nancy Spillane, head of Lowell Whitman Primary School, received a "head of school" medal with a beautiful inscription from her 1995 eighth-grade class, she was determined to find a use for it.
That determination led Spillane to the idea of giving a "head of school" award to students who demonstrate exceptional qualities in every area of school.
The Head of School Award is presented on a monthly basis to a student selected by the entire staff. The student is chosen by the faculty for having admirable qualities and strengths the school wants to recognize.
The staff put together a list of criteria that a head of school nominee would have to meet, such as strong motivation, leadership abilities, kindness, initiative, integrity and exceptional judgment.
"It doesn't necessarily have to be the student who performs the best academically," said Spillane. "What we really focus on is work ethic, honesty, and effort."
The student is given the Head of School medal for a month, and the staff chooses a day for the student to act as the real head of the school. During that day, the student sits in Spillane's office and does a variety of the duties Spillane usually performs, such as answering phone calls, acting as disciplinarian, teaching and observing classes, conducting parent meetings, and supervising the lunch room.
After the staff agrees on the student who will receive the award, they brainstorm a list of the personality strengths and admirable qualities that are unique to the particular student.
The list develops into a speech about the student that is delivered in front of the entire student body at an awards ceremony, but the identity of the student is kept hidden until the end of the speech.
"It's always a huge surprise, because the kids don't know who it is going to be," said Spillane. "By the end of the speech I'm usually crying."
This school year, in the month of October, Fabienne Charbonnet was the recipient of the Head of School Award. Fabienne is an eighth-grader at Lowell Whiteman.
"I knew something was going on because my parents were at the award ceremony, and my dad had a camera," Charbonnet said. "I used to talk a lot, but I've gotten better. As soon as Nancy mentioned that improvement in the speech I knew it was me."
Some of the words the staff used to describe Charbonnet were: "fabulosa," enthusiastic, sensitive, friendly, sincere, and honest.
Charbonnet enjoyed the whole experience. Her favorite duty as head of the school was observing a music class, where she had to write down everything that happened during the class period, including the dialogue.
"Whiteman is already a small school so you get recognized for the things you do, but getting the Head of School Award is a highlight," said Charbonnet.
This month the Head of School medal was awarded to Jay Trousil, a third grader at Lowell Whiteman. The staff at the school described Jay as open minded, independent, a good friend, responsible, very honest and excited to learn.
"Jay loves office supplies; pens, pencils, scissors, everything," said Spillane. "As soon as I mentioned that in the speech everyone knew it was him."
Trousil said that he has been working to earn the Head of School Award, and that it gives him a reason to get good grades and work hard.
"I was really happy and surprised when I figured out it was me," said Trousil.
Although Trousil will not participate in his "head of school" day until after Thanksgiving break, he is looking forward to it with anticipation.