An Independent School • Grades 5-12
April at the Upper School – Students taking ownership of their education
April at the Upper School – Students taking ownership of their education

by Hans de Grys, Upper School assistant director

One of the things I love about Lakesiders is how actively they pursue opportunities to collaborate with adults on campus, both inside and out of the classroom. Throughout the 20th century, the process of education was something that was "done to students" – and rarely something with which they were actively engaged. Students' minds were viewed as blank slates, or vessels to be filled. But in 2018, Lakeside students are eager to claim ownership in the educational process and strive to be involved with all aspects of their school life. Over the past several months, I have seen many examples of this leadership in action.

Upper School Student Government is a group of 16 students (four in each grade), elected by their peers to work on issues ranging from club approval, funding, and oversight to collaborating with the administration on school policy recommendations. This year, they've focused on projects that directly affect students' experiences, from "no homework" nights, to investigation of a test calendar to raise awareness about "slam weeks" and help ameliorate their effects. One of my favorite recent StudGov proposals is to allocate small sums of money to enhance the physical environment of a few classrooms each year. Upper School students would identify classrooms that seem bare or sterile, and help facilitate the purchase and installation of maps, flags, posters, artwork, or other interesting decorations designed to welcome students into the space and get them excited about learning.

A different sort of activism happened this past month, when a group of students organized and planned a school walkout as part of the national movement to protest gun violence in schools. These students met with my fellow assistant director Rachel Maiorano to propose that they join up with students at Ingraham High School for part of the walk out. But the students made it happen. As Arryn O. '19 blogged earlier this month: "While the school administration fully supported the walkout and its message, they emphasized that the protest's power came from the fact that it wasn't a school-sanctioned event, but a student demonstration independent of the administration."

I was also inspired recently by a group of sophomores who approached the administration with a concern that their class was not as cohesive and bonded as they would like. These students proposed a solution: a one-day, on-campus sophomore retreat. When their proposal was approved, they worked with faculty and administrators to plan and implement a day built around discussions, games, and activities designed to break down cliques and improve class cohesiveness. Senior leaders stepped up and volunteered to help facilitate this day. By all accounts, the retreat proved successful, thanks to the hard work and dedication of all of the students involved.

I am excited to see what student leadership will look like as we prepare for spring events: a student-centered day in early April during which student groups will make presentations and plan activities for the whole Upper School;  the spring "To Be Honest" conversations facilitated by students; the StudGov-organized May Day festival; and (my personal favorite), the student report to the curriculum committee, during which students tell us what they think is working (or not) in our academic program. None of these activities would happen without the passionate, creative, and dynamic leadership that students bring to school every day. Their energy and enthusiasm improves the academic curriculum, provides space and opportunity to talk about timely and relevant issues as a school community, and promotes a fun and joyous school atmosphere. 

The high level of student involvement and leadership that Lakesiders show on a daily basis means that it's both a great time to be a student and a great time to be an educator.

Hans de Grys is an Upper School assistant director. You can reach him at USacademics@lakesideschool.org and at 206-440-2704.