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Five Things Kids Learn When They Run for Student Council
At the dinner table a few weeks ago, my fifth-grade daughter announced her intention to run for vice president of her student council. Remembering the popularity contest that was my generation’s student council experience, I was wary but supportive. She secured her nomination (by volunteering to run) and we stayed up late one night making posters while I felt a little anxious about what would happen if she lost. She did lose; but in the end, I’m glad she ran, because she learned a lot along the way.
5 things students learn by running for student council
A bid for student council can bring a great many benefits to students, whether they win their election or not.
1. How government works
One thing she learned about was the role and voice of students in her school. While she knew student council couldn’t ensure free ice cream in the cafeteria or guarantee more days off from school, she did know that it provided a way for students to deliberately engage their administration in student-centered problem solving.
We discussed the kind of benefits she would like to bring to the school and how she might convey that through her posters and campaigning. This experience then led to several discussions about larger government elections and how United States citizens make their voices heard.
2. Critical self-reflection
When choosing the position she would run for, my daughter thought carefully about leadership and where she might fit in to the student council structure. She measured her strengths and weaknesses and ultimately choose to run for the position of vice president, having ruled out president (“I want to help the president!”), secretary (“I don’t write very well,”), and treasurer (“I don’t want to be in charge of money.”).
In doing so, she had to reflect on who she was and what strengths she could bring to a position of leadership. This is an excellent critical self-reflection that can really help students measure the roles that best fit them or even identify personal weaknesses they would like to shore up.
3. Public speaking skills
After posters were made and hung, the last big hurdle was for my daughter to ask for her classmates’ vote by giving a three-minute campaign speech on the school stage. Stage fright aside, she had to learn to introduce herself, connect with her audience, and convey her vice presidential platform quickly and clearly. While public speaking can be daunting for many, this practice in front of her peers was quite helpful.
A student council campaign requires those running to try to understand what their classmates want from the school and how that can be measured against what the school administration and parent-teacher organization are able to provide to students. Not only did my daughter have to consider her fellow classmates’ needs — she also had to take into account parents, teachers, and administrators. Contemplating problems from many points of view helps students identify with others.
Ultimately, my daughter didn’t win her bid for vice president. She was disappointed, but there was another lesson in her campaign that came through quite clearly. When the final votes were counted and the decision was announced, she felt confident that, while she personally would have been the best vice president, the student who was elected was also an excellent candidate. She was happy for the person who won and expressed her commitment to be a class representative for student council if she couldn’t be a member herself.
While my daughter didn’t win this time, her experience in the campaign was unforgettable. As she watched other students going through what she did — creating posters, thinking empathetically about their peers, and speaking to the wants and needs of their classmates — she learned what it was like to be a member of a group whose goal was to serve and improve its community.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.