'We're politicians in training'

Strawberry Park, Soda Creek students take Student Council seriously

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Strawberry Park Elementary School fifth-grader and student council president Chandler Kim is learning that serving as an elected official isn't always easy, particularly when the school playground rarely strays from the minds of her schoolmates.

"It's hard to get committees to get together and meet sometimes because they want to go to recess," Kim said after a meeting last week of the council and student representatives from the school's third-, fourth- and fifth-grade classes.

Nevertheless, Kim and numerous other fifth-graders at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools remain focused on their reasons for entering school politics.

"I wanted to make a difference in the school," Soda Creek's co-treasurer John McKenna said. "We're politicians in training."

Added co-vice president Brodee Smith: "It feels right just to make (the school) better and to fix things no one wanted to fix for a long time."

Last year, that involved raising money for improvements to the playground. One of the council's goals this year is to increase school spirit, which it hopes to accomplish by rewarding classes spirit stickers for particular achievements.

Led by school counselor Beth Bishop, Soda Creek's six student council members are taking a new approach to school politics this year. Bishop is training the students to be facilitators and leaders and is adjusting meeting schedules to be less intimidating for the younger students who want to be involved.

More than 30 Soda Creek fifth-graders ran for student council this year, Bishop said. But at such a young age, encouraging participation from all, regardless of election results, is more important than maintaining a rigid council structure.

"There's such a desire to be in it," Bishop said of the council. "At this level, it's important to say that if you want to do it, do it. If you can open the doors to all these kids who want to be involved, they become leaders. You're creating that environment for them."

All third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at both schools are encouraged to attend council meetings if doing so interests them.

Last week's student council and representative meeting at Strawberry Park was attended by several dozen students, who approved, by majority vote, a decision to focus on bringing a wolf to the school with money raised by students.

The meeting began and ended with the bang of a gavel and ran in tune with an agenda. Students brainstormed fund-raising ideas and were reminded of specific committee meetings that were held later in the week.

"It's really great to see kids take responsibility and make decisions," said Sherry Holland, who is one of the council's advisers. Tracy Stoddard is the other.

The political process of student council is new to most, if not all, of the children, Holland said, but they're learning the importance of following through on decisions and coordinating efforts to meet goals.

Strawberry Park's student council also runs a school store, where students can buy items such as pens, pencils and day planners.

The store is just one more way students at both schools are creating and embracing leadership positions. According to the kids, student government is fun and rewarding. According to teachers, it's a valuable lesson in civics, leadership and responsibility.

"It's just a great little exercise in seeing how democracy works," Holland said.

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