By Marciano Flores, AVID Elective Teacher, Coordinator, and Staff Developer
They say, "Great leaders are born,” but teachers, especially AVID teachers, know we build leaders. I have found that our individual determination mantra works exponentially when applied to leadership building in our AVID students. When you sincerely believe in your students' inherent drive to learn, add a desire to serve their community, and empower them with leadership skills, you will have a group of students ready for anything.
The AVID Student Council at East Bakersfield High School
Four years ago my school prepared its run for AVID National Demonstration School validation, and I felt that the students needed to have a bigger role in our AVID efforts. I also saw the potential for leadership that had not been tapped into yet in our AVID Elective students. So, with some doing and a bit of creative mentoring, I started an AVID Student Council, a council within our program where students were elected by popular vote from amongst their AVID peers and would be given leadership training over the summer.
The training used was developed from a variety of sources. Robert’s Rules, a student council structure I learned about from Activities Directors training, as well as my own background as a social studies teacher helped with our first council trainings. We also had the opportunity to attend a summer leadership camp where our new council interacted with ASB councils from around the state of California. While much of the student leadership curricula are focused on school spirit, athletics, and rallies, it’s not too hard to adapt its methodology to an AVID program.
For anyone looking for professional development in mentoring student leaders, I would look into workshops and conferences similar to those your ASB advisor would take, such as CADA (California Association of Directors of Activities).
The council was eventually given most of the reins of the AVID student population and activities for our program (fundraising, community service, schoolwide support for students). Each meeting the officers were given a chance to suggest new activities, new events, or just to comment on recent activities and see where we could improve or add.
Our first year was a learning year. We polled the teachers in our program and appointed the initial officers. We appointed them in order to “jump start” the council with experienced leaders. We knew by the end of that year we would begin our cycle of elections that would select the new council. Appointing the officers the first time around allowed us to focus on council development first, and then naturally led to a wholly elected body the next year.
Then, as stated, we held trainings over the summer. Since the elections were done in the spring, it allowed us time to get to know one another and to set goals for the program for the upcoming school year. We also held fundraisers for uniforms for our council. We ordered polos with our logos and had their council position embroidered, distinguishing them as chosen leaders. It is remarkable how a sense of pride, of belonging, can go such a long way.
In the fall we elected one student from each of our seven sections to be class representatives. This rounded out our council and we were off and running for our first year.
In the four years we have had an AVID Student Council we have held city-wide community service programs initiated by the students, connected with all of our feeder schools using the officers as recruiters, and have even extended beyond our feeder schools to be guest speakers at out-of-area programs.
How To Begin
- Sit down with the AVID site team and determine the roles your AVID Student Council will play in your program.This allows for buy-in from the entire site team at the beginning and an understanding of how to mentor your student leaders.
- Connect with your ASB advisor (Activities Director) for resources on how clubs (your council/program is technically a club in the eyes of your AD) are run. This will also help when your council becomes more visible on campus.
- Appoint or interview an initial council or leadership group of 4 to 5 students; perhaps those who have already shown leadership skills and abilities in your classes. Allow them to begin the first year as a council acting as student ambassadors for any visitors to your school. Also, they can participate in any conversations with administration, as well as being student representation on your site team.
- Near the end of your first year, perhaps in April, you can hold your first program-wide elections. Ask the candidates to complete a simple application and grade check. You can determine your own requirements, but I would caution against making them too strict. This is supposed to be a chance to foster leadership amongst any and all of your students—not just the obvious elite. I do suggest, however, that your president be a senior and the vice president either be a junior or senior, simply because of maturity level. The other officers, for example, can be treasurer, publicity chair, and secretary. These can all be from your sophomore, junior, or senior ranks.
AVID Student Council Elections
Like most student elections, you want your officers to represent the group in general. During election week, ask them to present themselves to each section of AVID so that all students can get to know them. This allows the AVID student body to make a more informed vote for their council. The crucial thing for any election is that the nominations and the votes seem fair and equal. Of this point, I am adamant. Requirements for candidacy need to be transparent, the vote counting be validated by multiple counters, and the campaigns be supervised and free from “mudslinging.” You cannot guarantee that young people will not get a little competitive with these elections, but the advisors must maintain the integrity of the process, and by extension, the program.
In the fall you will nominate and, by student vote, elect student representatives from each of the AVID sections. Most definitely include your freshmen so that you can start to foster leadership in your younger group. Preparing them for officer positions in the future is crucial to their personal success, as well as that of your council.
Keeping your AVID Student Council Active
Set a regular meeting date so council members can calendar it. Set a regular agenda and time allotted for each officer to report out (each class rep should have time in their AVID class to report back about what the council spoke on). An easy number to remember in regards to activities is one per academic quarter. During the summer see what the council would like to get involved in during the school year: community service, schoolwide spirit activities, and college information night or college fairs. The activities should all reflect the AVID mission statement and your programs organizational goals. Still, fun pep rally antics now and again keeps your group lively and involved in the rest of the school. By the same token, you want your council to involve as many AVID students in these activities as possible—you don’t want your council to become an exclusive clique. They represent your AVID student body.
In the big picture, the heart of the council is allowing for as many opportunities to have your students demonstrate their leadership skills and public speaking skills. It is important to allow for the normal ups and downs of a student group. The students, as always, will amaze you when given motivation and encouragement.
I could not have foreseen the growth that would happen. Freshmen leaders turning into ASB presidents. Slightly shy students speaking out for others. Marginalized students taking their place amongst their peers. Our AVID Student Council leads our charge for student success, and it inspires me every day.
Here is a quick check of how to initiate an AVID Student Council
- With your Site Team, determine the # of positions for your council—size will vary based on the size of the program.
- Determine their roles and responsibilities within the program, as well as criteria for candidacy—see your ASB advisor for resources.
- Elect (or appoint) your inaugural group; better in the spring so meetings, fundraisers, and team building can occur in the summer. If not, as early in the fall as possible.
- Keep your council active and visible to your program through meetings, events, and fundraisers—if it gets boring or time-consuming, the interest will wane.
- Wrap up in April or May by holding elections for the coming year and transitioning outgoing council for new council; make it a tradition.
Marciano has taught for 17 years. In that time, he’s had the privilege of educating a wide variety of people of all ages and learning needs. More recently, he was the East Bakersfield High School AVID coordinator for 5 years, where he helped bring the program and school to the highest recognition offered as an AVID National Demonstration School. He has also been an adjunct professor for the University of Phoenix since 2004. Currently, Marciano is at the Paramount College & Career Prep Academy in Delano, CA. Paramount is a public charter school (grades 6-12) that focuses all its energies on preparing students for higher education.
For more on AVID, visit http://avid.org/what-is-avid.ashx.