O'Neal Seniors Guide Young Students
Back to School
Seniors began their last first day of school Tuesday by guiding The O'Neal School's next generation.
By 7:45 a.m., the senior class, clad in lime green shirts, had lined up along the sidewalk outside of the lower school, where they would present personalized T-shirts to first- and second-graders arriving at school.
"This is a complete surprise for the parents and the first- and second-graders," Headmaster Alan Barr said as cars began pulling up.
Senior "buddies" met their young counterparts as they stepped onto the sidewalk with their backpacks and lunch boxes in tow and escorted them to their classrooms.
Once settled into their desks, students completed a worksheet activity with their buddies to get to know each other.
The surprise helped kick off a new buddy program between the grades, in which seniors pair up with first- and second-graders to help guide them through the school year.
At the end of the year, the young students will return the favor by showing appreciation for their senior buddies on the last day of school.
This program is just one of several student activities organized through the school's new prefect leadership program, which seeks to generate schoolwide collaboration from students on various projects at O'Neal and allows students to make significant contributions to their school and the community.
The program creates a network of students working in different facets of student life, such as school spirit campaigns, service projects and academic programs.
Seven representatives (prefects) from the senior class will manage the network and help coordinate events, activities and programs school-wide by working with classes and student organizations.
The program's leaders are Maura Thornton, head prefect; Heather Dyer, service prefect; Shannah Pilson, community prefect; Alex Averbook, academic prefect; Matt McDougald, admissions prefect; Sarah Brown, communications prefect; and Bryce Baldelli, student life prefect.
"They're here to serve the school," Barr said. "Their goal is to make the school better than when they got here."
For Barr, the program empowers students to actively pursue their interests and make contributions, while also developing leadership skills over the course of their academic careers.
"We don't want top-down growth in the school," he said. "We want to see students taking ownership of their experiences in education."
Barr believes that schoolwide organization will allow students to gain a broader understanding of cooperation as they work together among different grade levels in a setting that isn't always focused on academic achievement.
"Good leadership does not necessarily have to reflect high academics," he said.
Richard Catania, assistant director of the upper school, says that this kind of student involvement is essential for the creation of an environment that promotes individual growth.
"We want to have a child-centered community," Catania said. "It's impossible to do that without involving the children."
Over the summer, the prefects got to work establishing goals and throwing around ideas for potential service projects, student programs and school activities in the year ahead.
To prepare for their new leadership positions, five of the seven prefects went on a five-day backpacking trip last month in Aspen, Colo., with Barr, Catania, assistant headmaster Brenda Jackson and trail guide Jim Adare, a consultant for the prefect program.
Through bouts of bad weather, long hikes and somewhat comical experiences with nature, the students were able to bond and discuss potential ways to effectively integrate all students into school activities.
Now that school is under way, all of the representatives approach their positions with a desire to make a significant impact.
"It's really a sense of giving back to the school," said Thorton, head prefect. "O'Neal's done a lot for me."
Thornton will oversee the entire program and will work closely within the different committees in the program to create an overall synergy among different groups and activities going on at the school.
'Show Their Stuff'
The program offers all students a chance to get involved. Students with ideas about a new program or service project can make suggestions to the prefects and participate in committees to see their ideas come to fruition.
Heather Dyer hopes to establish a recycling program this year that was suggested by a fifth-grader at the school.
Dyer also wants to implement service projects on the local, state and national levels by organizing groups and working with student clubs to volunteer and raise money for different causes.
Pilson, the community prefect, was able to see her goal of bringing older students and younger students together through school activities on the first day of school with the buddy program orchestrated by the senior class.
Pilson wants to create more opportunities for students in different grades to come together to develop a unified school identity through day-to-day interactions.
Brown, the communications prefect, hopes to recognize student achievement both in the school and the community, along with publicizing student events. She wants to expand the recognition beyond the realm of sports, which can be a heavy emphasis at any school.
"I really want them to be able to show their stuff," Brown said. "If someone's really good at something, then everyone should know about it."
Baldelli, the student life prefect, has a big role of being the school's "morale officer." Besides working with clubs to organize school spirit events and generating more student participation in activities, Baldelli is expected to make school fun outside of the classroom.
"He gets everybody whipped up on the O'Neal spirit," Thornton said.
Averbook looks forward to beginning the school's first peer tutoring program at the school. He says the program will benefit both the students receiving academic help and those doing the tutoring.
"Not only are the people being tutored going to get something out of it, but the tutors will also be able to share their love for the subject," he said.
McDougald remembers embracing many school activities when he transferred to O'Neal as a freshman. As the admissions prefect, he hopes to show perspective students the opportunities he discovered as a new student.
McDougald wants to showcase what O'Neal has to offer by matching perspective students up with students who have similar interests for a more personalized view of the school.
"If they are able to get just a little bit of the O'Neal life, then they'll love it," he said.
Contact Hannah Sharpe at email@example.com.
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