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Fostering Student Leadership in the Primary School

Sandra Vasquez and Maria Angela Novoa,  Colegio Roosevelt, Peru


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There must have been over six hundred shoes strewn all over the classroom floor. Sneakers, high-heels, glittery sandals, running shoes, slippers and rubber boots in all colors, styles and sizes. The collection containers were now empty and it was time to get organized.

“I’ve got a red slipper and a green tennis shoe,” yelled Nicole as she rummaged through the pile looking to reunite the mixed-up pairs. “Red slipper, got it! Does anyone see tennis shoes? I’m collecting a whole pile over here,” Gabriel answered, holding the slipper in the air. Their first match. “Can you believe we’ve collected all of these shoes? It’s incredible!” Martina stated to the Student Council members who were all working to organize the results of their week long shoe drive.

Last April, the Elementary school staff at Colegio Franklin Delano Roosevelt, The American School of Lima (FDR) gathered on a Wednesday afternoon to discuss creating new initiatives in order to fulfill the school’s mission to empower its students to pursue their passion for learning, lead lives of integrity and create socially responsible solutions. One of the new initiatives to emerge was the creation of an elementary school student council. The idea was to encourage more student involvement, improve communication between students, teachers and administration and to foster leadership and responsibility in the students. The FDR Student Council would also represent the voices, ideas and concerns of the entire student body.


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How It Began

The first step was to come to a goals and expectations of the Student Council would be. As there was no formal student leadership structure in place, we knew that in order to succeed we would have to put an emphasis on developing independence and leadership skills within the students. We decided that we would start the program with fourth and fifth grade representatives. It was an open application process that would be reviewed by the three Student Council Advisors and the administration. We asked candidates to tell us why they would be a good fit for the council, what they hoped to accomplish as a member and which PYP attitudes they possessed. We encouraged them to be creative with their application by letting them represent themselves in whatever medium they chose. We were amazed with the results. Students made videos, brochures, oral presentations and more to communicate their desire to be part of the team. In the end, we decided that 22 students fit the criteria for inclusion in the Student Council. After delivering the news to the candidates and their parents we were ready to get started.

Getting Started

We agreed from the start that we wanted this to be a student lead group. In order to do that, we believed that we first needed to set up a structure for success. At our first meeting, students worked together to determine what their individual roles and overall council focus would be. After settling on a weekly meeting time the students were tasked with creating a council logo and setting up an Edmodo group to facilitate communication and the exchange of ideas between members and advisors. Through this online platform they share surveys, videos they create, possible topics for weekly meetings, praise, community news as well as jokes, funny pictures and more. This has been the greatest tool to establishing and reinforcing our council community and identity.


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The Student Council

It was decided that the Student Council’s primary focus would be getting more involved with community opportunities outside of the classroom. Coincidentally, our school’s theme this year is “We Are Colegio Roosevelt” which aims to bring the community and all of it’s diverse members closer together. Although the council has been together less than a year we have still managed to spearhead a number of activities and events, such as:

“Wannabe Day”

For our first activity, the student council members encouraged the student body to come to school out- of-uniform and dressed as what they want to be when they grow up. They got the word out through eye-catching bulletin boards, announcements and an online campaign. The turnout was great. It was an incredible event with young artists, teachers, actors, scientists, vets and explorers role playing throughout the entire day. The student council photographed the participants and put together a slideshow that was posted on the school website and Edmodo page. They also collected donations, 5 soles from each participant that was given to the local firefighters of Peru.

“Condor New contributions”

This year the elementary school has also launched Condor News, a daily 4- minute student produced video that details the announcements of the day. The Student Council has contributed a number of short videos to encourage involvement and participation in community events such as “Family Fun Night’ an event each semester that encourages reading. They have also started a segment, ‘Joke of the Week’ which is a big hit with everyone.

“Un Techo Para Mi Pais”

For the past four years the secondary school at FDR has been actively involved with Techo, a nonprofit organization that mobilizes youth volunteers to fight extreme poverty in Latin America. This semester the Student Council was approached by the secondary school student leaders to get involved in an effort to increase awareness and fundraising activities in the community. As a result, the elementary students agreed to hold an out-of-uniform day to collect funds for the upcoming community build. Once again, the council members wrote and produced a video to communicate this message. This was a big step towards helping to link the initiatives between the primary and secondary schools.


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“Share a Pair”

After the success of the Techo drive, the Student Council teamed up with Barbara, a secondary student who had recently returned from a family trip to Huaraz, a small city in the mountains of Peru. During her time there, she was shocked to see that many of the children she came across were walking barefoot in cold and dangerous conditions. Once back on campus, she decided to start a collection of slightly used footwear that could be donated to those that were less fortunate. The Student Council members enthusiastically agreed to get involved and set about creating an awareness campaign across the primary school that focused on not only the need for footwear but also the risks of going barefoot in those conditions. They designed and developed logos, eye-catching posters and an engaging and informative video segment for the Condor News to maximize student participation. The results were astounding.


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Success

“Look, it’s like a centipede going around the whole room,” Martina said with a laugh as all the other council members looked proudly at their efforts.

There were 300 plus pairs of shoes neatly placed side by side ready to be packaged and delivered to the people of Huaraz. What started as an idea had transformed into a community wide effort to make a positive change in the lives of not only the unfortunate but the lives of the students involved in the campaign.

Looking Ahead

The “Share a Pair” shoe drive, along with the other student lead initiatives to date have solidified our belief in the power of student leadership. The council’s Edmodo page is alive with comments and suggestions as to what we should focus on next. We have started planning and organizing a primary school Field Day and are brainstorming ideas for our 100th day of school celebration. If given the opportunity, structure and support young students can truly get involved in setting the course of not only the school but their own learning. We are confident that this is just the beginning.


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