Leadership, Community and the Individual

We’ve just completed our first weeks back to school after the March break which signifies the beginning of one of our favourite seasons at The Grove. Outside temperatures are on the rise, the maple trees are tapped, the snow is beginning to melt and soon we will all be caught up in sunshine and a frenzy of outdoor springtime activities and celebrations. It’s what we like to call the beginning of “Camp Lakefield.”

For many of us, it’s a time for reflection too. Teachers are looking back on their programs and evaluating the year’s successes; students are considering their plans, regaining a rhythm of school work and diving into major projects; and senior students, especially, are focusing on getting the most out of what remains of their time here—while preparing for their year ahead as graduates.

Leading the Way in School Life

It’s this latter group, the graduating class, who set the tone for community life in a significant way. In their final year, our seniors are challenged to apply what they have discovered about themselves and their leadership style to their school community. Contributing as student Seniors-in-Charge within various departments of the school, and as members of the School Life Class, our seniors are encouraged to test their leadership skills within a safe, real world environment; to make the necessary connections, apply themselves and their ideas, interact, discuss, disagree and learn from their experience, in order to discover who they are developing into as people and as active leaders within the school community.

For those seniors enrolled in the School Life Class, especially, the springtime months at LCS are significant. Led by Pete O’Grady and Vera Wilcox, and a regular part of the curricular program (classes meet three times a week within the class schedule), the School Life Class is responsible for overseeing the design, management and implementation of between 80 and 100 events a year.  Events range from smaller lunchtime or after-school activities, coordinated by four or five students, to larger school-wide, half or full-day events involving 80-member project teams (including support supplied by staff).  With community-building as their focus, students handle all aspects of event planning from project management, venue selection and preparation, risk management, budgets and food coordination, to post-event feedback and debriefs (including “fun-metre” assessments). Springtime at LCS provides the perfect backdrop for activities building up to the final Closing-week roster of events and the School Life Class is busy reflecting on their successes, assessing the mood of the community, and responding accordingly.

The School Life Class tests their leadership skills while organizing between 80 – 100 events a year

“School Life Class has taught students how to work together to create events for the entire school. This involves coordinating with teachers, other student leaders, and encouraging school-wide participation. Mostly, however, it’s about cooperation and enthusiasm; it encourages enduring positivity, kindness and presence. In the class, we come to learn about the intricacies of teams and the challenges and benefits of being young leaders.” ~ Juliet Gardner (Grade 12)

It’s not alway easy to keep the momentum going.  Director of Student Leadership for the last seven years, O’Grady says one of the greatest challenges of the leadership program at LCS and, in particular, the School Life Class, is making a program that is individualized and meets the needs, characteristics and passions of our students.

“We begin with students in Grade 9, by focusing on the basic understanding that positive interactions with others start with the individual.  We encourage students to think about what that means as part of their journey working together and supporting each other, coming to understand their identity as individuals.  Students are encouraged to continue exploring answers to important questions like: how do we relate with each other, seek out and embrace diversity, different perspectives, and recognize the strength within different viewpoints?  This builds, by the time students reach their senior year, into a focus on relationships within a community, and how to lead, but also how to follow at times. One of the keys to ensuring momentum is for students to control their own leadership development, to assume responsibility.  Ultimately, our goal is to nurture ethical and values based leaders.” ~ Pete O’Grady

O’Grady emphasizes how important it is for staff to trust students in their assessments of school life and often, in their prescriptions for solutions.  He recalls how, a few years back, the community was experiencing some divisiveness, and students introduced a community participation project with such positive results.  The  “I Value at LCS…” initiative and installation within the academic block invited students and staff to publicly share what they most treasured about their school community, affirming and celebrating the positive connections that existed for so many and elevating the community’s sense of pride of place.  It helped to recalibrate the community and, for O’Grady, proved how important it was to place faith and trust in our students, demonstrating just how much they cared about their community.

“So many people in this community are committed to making the Grove experience exceptional for everyone.  If you have an idea or want to make something happen, there are people in the community who will help you.  There is really nothing you shouldn’t at least try, because so many of the awesome Grove traditions that we have come to accept now must once have started with just an idea. I think it’s important to never stop looking for ways to make LCS even better for everyone.” ~ Jake Fell (Grade 12)

The Grade 12 School Life Class is one example of many opportunities that exist at LCS to try new things, to succeed and to fail, all while reflecting on and learning through the leadership experience, building confidence and resiliency.  With April on our doorstep, and Camp Lakefield about to explode, our seniors will have their hands full, and as O’Grady says,

“We will be focused on helping our students maintain the spark they came with in September, and seeing it burn just as brilliantly with enthusiasm and initiative, until June—ultimately, leaving proud of their accomplishments and what they’ve shared with their community and with a happy heart, confident of who they are as individuals.”