Leadership Development Impacts Students at St. Peter-Immanuel“When we go places, we get compliments from people because of how well [our students] behave,” says Sarah Weber, teacher at St. Peter-Immanuel Lutheran School.On a recent field trip to the Embassy Theater, students represented their school with pride as middle school students guided younger grades through the theater.“It is amazing to watch the older students,” she adds. “They always step it up when we go out. One person commented on our students saying, ‘They’re so polite.’ It’s how it should be.”Eighth grader Corbin Springer agrees. “The little kids look up to us. If we’re quiet, they’re going to do the same. If we hold the doors open for them, they want to be like us. When they’re older, they’ll provide the same example.”
Twice a month at St. Peter-Immanuel, middle school students assist their faith family with a game, activity or service project designed to give older students leadership experience.These service projects offer leadership opportunities and connection, with the middle school students playing a pivotal role in the success of the projects. This family concept has been so successful, they use it for field trips too.Around the holidays, students gathered around empty shoeboxes, picking out school supplies, toiletries, and small toys for a service project. When the shoeboxes were filled, they were shipped across the world to a child in need.“The younger kids like this project,” says middle school student, Logan McBarnes. “We’re such a small school and we don’t have a lot of people, but we get the job done.”
At St. Peter-Immanuel, this is more than a lesson in giving. It’s a hands-on experience in student leadership development, as older students work with younger ones to complete a project.Principal Julie Kowalke explains that many ordinary tasks prepare middle school students for leadership and service, two necessary building blocks for adulthood.But leadership isn’t only about big projects, according to the principal, but rather how they serve people everyday.“It’s not some huge activity or falsely created opportunity. It’s those everyday situations to show leadership,” Ms. Kowalke adds. “It’s an opportunity to see themselves as leaders. We tell them, ‘You are a leader and the little boys are watching you. What are you portraying? What are you showing that little guy?’”St. Peter-Immanuel provides a number of leadership opportunities, including weekly responsibilities like changing the school sign, gathering and taking out the recycling, and reading to younger students.
“When they get a chance to read with a buddy, they come back to me and say ‘Wow, they needed help,’” remarks Mrs. Weber. She sees firsthand how the students are impacted by their leadership roles with the younger students.It’s this example of service that gives students at St. Peter-Immanuel the opportunity to demonstrate servant leadership among their peers.Ms. Kowalke adds, “We are giving them the freedom to make those good decisions because if they’re always in our supervision, they don’t have the opportunity to make those choices.”Parent Jennie Springer agrees. “These are good skills for adulthood,” she adds. “Hopefully as they mature, they can make good choices.”By focusing on the whole person, St. Peter-Immanuel is preparing students for the future.“They’re not only learning academically, but socially too,” Mrs. Weber says.
For Principal Kowalke, developing student leaders impacts the school atmosphere positively.“All of these little things create a culture of caring and community,” she adds. “It allows our kids to take ownership of their school.”