By Todd Martin
Special to the Herald
Learning leadership and organization skills to make a positive difference is a big part of a growing number of elementary school student councils.
At a regional workshop in Killeen on Tuesday, 70 elementary and middle school students gathered to learn about leading their peers.
Students played games and sang songs, but they also heard from state education leaders tips about how to build energy, come to consensus and bring ideas to completion at their schools.
The Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association operates the student council leadership workshops across Texas, training thousands of students and their adult advisors every year.
In Killeen, students came from nine schools in Killeen Independent School District, two schools in Copperas Cove ISD, two in Temple ISD and one from May ISD near Brownwood.
Students sat at round tables in a large conference room at the Jackson Professional Learning Center listening to their sessions and answering questions and working together.
They heard about the "critters on the council," typical personalities that bring various strengths and weaknesses into a group.
Carolyn Solomon, a TEPSA presenter, said there are the sharks, which come up with ideas, but struggle to listen to others.
There are also the peacemaker bears, the compromising foxes, withdrawn turtles, uncertain chameleons and thoughtful owls, she explained to students.
Wise leaders understand a group needs all kinds of personalities and struggles when one group overwhelms the rest, Solomon explained to students.
Fifth-grader Erin Kelly of Saegert Elementary School in Killeen said the workshop helped students try to get the feeling of how it is to be a council."
She said she learned the importance of bringing enthusiasm to her school's council to bring other people into efforts to make a difference.
Skipcha Elementary School counselor Amy Alexander said the students learn the roles and responsibilities of the different council officers. She said students who get involved in Student Council commit to monthly meetings and after-school activities.
"It's developing the future leaders of America," Alexander said.
Learning to lead and to identify personal strengths are part of the workshop goals, said Cedar Valley Elementary School counselor Brandi Carroll.
Students return from the sessions with the initiative to bring ideas to fruition and an enthusiasm to bring their friends onboard.
"They are so excited when they get back to their schools they want to change the world," Carroll said.
Cedar Valley's Student Council is entering its fourth year. It is a national Honor Council. Nolanville Elementary School's group is a national Honor Council for the seventh year.
Other groups, including Cavazos Elementary School in Nolanville, started a Student Council for the first time this year.
Cavazos principal Joe Gullekson attended the event, taking part in the separate workshop for student council adult advisors. He said he was excited about the effort to build campus leaders.
The gathering has a way of motivating students to action.
One year, the Cedar Valley group returned from a leadership workshop and started a school recycling program. "They step up," Carroll said. "They meet other kids who are leaders and get excited about new ideas."
The excitement of being a leader and seeing ideas come to fruition becomes infectious.
Fourth-grader Freddy Hicks of Halstead Elementary School in Copperas Cove said his Student Council is working on fundraisers to make repairs to playground equipment.
He said he likes serving "so I can expose ideas so other people can learn about it, too."
Carroll said at Cedar Valley there are students who get excited to join the council to pick up trash around the school. They watch each other and urge one another to keep their areas clean.
Students also visit the Rosewood Nursing Center and lead fundraisers for charitable causes.
Immediately after the Second Chance Animal Shelter in Killeen burned last November, Student Council members were ready to help. When Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake in January, the students were ready to come up with a plan to contribute.
"They become really conscious of needs in the world," Carroll said. "They can start to see outside themselves. It's contagious. They want to know 'What can we do to help?'"