If you think middle school student councils are full of nothing but a bunch of brainiacs, you haven’t kept up with the changing faces of pre-teens. These days, many student councils are diverse. Members are geeks. Jocks. A few divas. Together, these kids do more than show up at meetings—each gets first-hand experience in the arts of power, governing and gamesmanship. If your middle school lacks a student council, do all you can to change that and you’ll help change the way your students view government.
Set goals and objectives by defining the role of the middle school student council as it relates to your school’s student population. Meet with administrators and faculty to draft bylaws, determine the optimal size of your middle school's student council, articulate candidate criteria and decide on activities appropriate for the student government to undertake. Choose an adviser to shepherd the start-up.
Print fliers detailing academic and other criteria a candidate must meet to run for office--such as “must have GPA of 3.0, teacher recommendation, essay, able to meet monthly, willingness to participate in projects and activities.” Set a deadline for candidate submissions. Encourage students to launch campaigns on behalf of friends by providing rules and regulations for hanging campaign materials and promoting candidates. Organize a candidate forum.
Conduct elections. Choose the most convenient and least disruptive way to handle the voting process by distributing ballots in class or at a central location like your auditorium or school cafeteria. Employ volunteer poll watchers to guard against ballot box stuffers, class comedians and other shenanigans.
Announce the winners of the middle school student council over the school PA system at the end of the school day so candidates don’t lose sleep over the outcome. Call an orientation meeting to survey the council about a mutually agreeable meeting day that doesn’t interfere with football, band, soccer and club commitments.
Hand out and read aloud the group’s draft bylaws and answer questions about this important document. Reserve calendar dates for meetings that cover the first semester of school. Reinforce the goals and objectives of the organization.
Charge the council with responsibility for selecting a president, vice president, treasurer, secretary, sergeant-at-arms and committee heads from the membership-at-large. Encourage the entire middle school council to study the group’s draft bylaws and then suggest modifications so the group assumes ownership of the group’s guiding document.
Ask the student council adviser(s) to keep a tight rein on the group until the middle-schoolers grow confident and comfortable with the workings of the organization. Intercede if necessary to nip conflict in the bud. Subtly teach students how to negotiate and reconcile differences. Urge council members to be forthright and committed so they don’t lose interest or become frustrated by infighting and power grabs.
Find creative ways to motivate each member of your middle school student council, making individuals feel as though her role is uniquely vital to the school’s success and you’ll have candidates lined up to run for office in year two and down the road.