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BCTF Advantage
Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 2, October 2007

Innovative leadership at Juniper Ridge

By Dianne Dean and Jane Powell

Walk into any elementary school in BC and you will see students, together with their buddies with special needs, eating lunch and then playing outside games like football or catch. Intermediate students may listen to Grade 1 students as they read or help out in the office during break times. You may also see students making presentations about poverty to their peers in an effort to raise funds for a charity such as UNICEF.

While these activities take place in most elementary schools, at Juniper Ridge, a school of 340 students that lies in the hills above Kamloops, they are part of a program that sees every Grade 6 and 7 student take several leadership roles in the school. The program evolved because teachers noticed that some senior students had problems with conflicting schedules—a small number of them were taking on all the leadership roles in the school. When teachers started to address this problem, they realized that by restructuring the leadership opportunities so that all Grade 6 and 7 students were involved, not only did this re-organization eliminate the problem of some students being over-scheduled, but it also gave students who would not have been identified as leaders opportunities to fulfill a variety of roles and live up to, and even exceed, expectations.

To kick-start the program in September, community consultants offer training in communication and leadership skills to the student leaders. The principal and several staff members organize the program and train the students for specific responsibilities. The Grade 6 and 7 teachers divide the students into five homogeneous groups based on leadership ability, grade, and gender. Each team begins in one of five rotations. Students in the Office Monitors rotation perform tasks such as answering phones, making morning announcements, and doing some clerical work. The Supervision group supervises students in the computer lab and the Grade 1 students while they eat their lunch. Peer Helpers play games with students with special needs, read with primary children, or provide homework help. School Spirit students organize special events such as dances and pumpkin-carving contests and teach playground games to primary classes. Community Service students promote giving back to the school and community by supporting projects like Christmas Amalgamated and events to raise money for trees and playground equipment.

Each group works in one placement for a two-month period before moving into the next one. In this way, all students have an opportunity to experience the various roles and responsibilities across the leadership program and discover their strengths--strengths they will continue to use in their adult lives and careers. They develop communication skills, a sense of social responsibility, and empathy for others. They learn social skills and how to work as a team. The benefits of the program also extend to the adults. The staff collaborates to ensure the program runs smoothly and there is a renewed sense of excitement when they witness student growth.

Comments from staff and parents indicate that the program contributes to the positive school climate. There is a sense of community—not only for students who are receiving the benefits of the program, but also for the ones providing it. It is through this program that students learn that they have something to contribute and that they can make a difference. At Juniper Ridge, teachers and staff believe this is perhaps the most important learning for future citizens.

Dianne Dean teaches at Juniper Ridge Elementary School and Jane Powell teaches at the School of Education, Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops.

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