Students Live Their Passions Through Student Leadership
It is no surprise that student leadership opportunities abound at Breck. Skills learned through leadership such as communication, collaboration, teambuilding, problem-solving, and risk-taking help students in aspects far beyond their day-to-day life at school and even prepares them for life after Breck, too. Research on the importance of leadership development tells us that students who take leadership opportunities at an early age are also more likely to aspire to roles of leadership in their higher education or professional careers.
At Breck, students of all ages have the opportunity to lead clubs, join committees working on special initiatives, and be a member of student councils. Each opportunity offers students a great deal of influence on shaping the culture and climate of the school but also involves a significant amount of risk as being a leader among their peers.
In the Lower School, Student Council and Chapel Committee are two formal ways students can take on a leadership role. The students involved are very aware of the importance of their work for the Lower School community as well as the challenges that can arise as a leader on campus.
“Our job is to plan community meeting and talk about how we can make the school better,” says Jack ’29, second-grade student council representative. “We think of ideas that could make the Lower School a better place and try to help make it a better environment.”
In addition to providing input for and planning Lower School events, students are also asked to remember their role as a leader in their day-to-day interactions, which isn’t always easy.
“Being a leader means that sometimes you have to be brave,” says Noah ’28. “As a leader, even if you don’t know someone, you still need to help them,” says Elena ’30. “We need to help the Lower School students, bigger students, and even the grown ups,” adds Grace ’27.
This work helps instill a sense of ownership and belonging for the students.
“I am proud to show a good example for kids,” adds Noah. “It’s important to be kind.”
In the Middle School, students lead through a number of student clubs and programs. Wyatt ’23 says he was inspired to lead as an Admissions Ambassador because of his experience as a new student himself.
“I love Breck,” says Wyatt. “I got to have the experience as a new student and I wanted to share that experience with people who are considering Breck, too. It is my responsibility to show them the essence of how great Breck is — within their comfort zone.”
Like some of his peers, Wyatt also volunteered to help with the fifth grade Kindness Retreat, which is an opportunity to lead as a role model to his fellow students.
“There are leaders in higher grades that paved the way for me and paved the path to be a leader,” adds Wyatt.“I hope that I influence people, too.”
Another student leadership opportunity in the Middle School is through the Dare to Be Real Club. Will ’23 has been a member since sixth grade.
“Dare to Be Real is a program for any student to talk about race issues and things in society and talk about different perspectives,” says Will. “I really started to figure out who I was in Middle School and, as a student of color at Breck, I knew that if I joined, I could express my feelings on what is right or wrong coming from my perspective.”
The club has allowed him to learn more about what he values in leadership and live them out each day.
“There are many different types of leaders but I think I’m both a vocal leader and someone who leads by example,” explains Will. “Being a leader has been a goal of mine since first grade. I believe you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes but also be able to speak out and stand up for others.”
Students can also be found leading in their robotics teams, Be A Mustang program, or other clubs such as the Environmental Club.
The Upper School broadens further the opportunities for students to shape the culture and community at Breck. For the purpose of this story, we focused on the ring of student leadership known as the Service Councils. Six councils make up the leadership of the student body. They include: Integrity Council, Advocacy Council, Service Council, Arts Council – Performing and Visual, Diversity and Inclusion Council, and Athletic Council.
The Student Integrity Council is known as one of the hallmarks of the Upper School. This council hears cases of academic dishonesty and recommends appropriate disciplinary action to the Upper School administration. The council is made up of student representatives from grades 10-12 as well as a grade-level dean and the assistant director of the Upper School
“We are an important part of the culture because we give students a chance to be heard by students instead of just school administrators,” says Deirdre ’19, Integrity Council president. But the work isn’t easy. “There is a stigma that people on the council are trying to get students in trouble. But we know that we are advocating for students to make situations better and what we are doing is important for the school, regardless of whether people understand it.”
The council is discussion-based and takes a great deal of time and care to work through each case. “To be a good leader, you have to be a good follower and a good listener,” adds Deirdre. “If you are overpowering, you have to be sure to listen to everyone. It’s important to find that balance.”
While much of the work of the Student Integrity Council happens behind closed doors, the work of the Student Advocacy Council is very public.
“Our role is to work on certain issues and topics from each class that they want to get done or bring to student council,” says Brett ’19, Advocacy Council president. “We are crafting plans and proposals to bring to the administration, such as new furniture, dress code, and policy changes.”
Brett, who is in his first year on the council, says that while his position and those on the council are important, it isn’t the only way to be a leader at Breck.
“Leadership at Breck is interesting because a lot of people are passionate about the school. While this is a formal leadership position, there are lots of ways people can be leaders – in sports and in classes. We don’t have to convince people to buy-in at Breck because this is a place that people really care about.”
This kind of care for the school resulted in one of the newest councils at Breck – Diversity and Inclusion.
In 2017-2018, six students participated in the National Association of Independent Schools Student Diversity and Leadership Conference. At the conference, the students knew more work on diversity and inclusion among the student body needed to take place but the opportunity for formal leadership didn’t currently exist.
“The group [from SDLC] decided that we needed something to solidify inclusion in the community,” says Lauren ’19, president of the council this year. “We wanted to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”
While the council is still growing, they have 15 members this year selected from 30 applications.
“Our goal is to promote and appreciate diversity of all kinds in the Breck community through events, affinity group organization, and other activities,” adds Lauren.
Another council providing leadership across the school is Service. Phillip ’20 helps lead the council that is focused on connecting opportunities for students to get involved, gaining feedback from community partnership sites, and organizing service drives and initiatives.
“Breck provides a lot of opportunities for leadership,” says Phillip, who was first inspired to give back through his work with the Boy Scouts. He believes that following your passion is a great way to make change. “If you are passionate about something, take that and get involved. You meet new people and it is collaborative. It’s a way to give back to Breck.”
Also serving the student population are the councils for the arts — both performing and visual — as well as athletics.
The Arts Council is also new this year with a goal of getting the arts more ingrained into the Breck community. “The arts are an important part of Breck but it isn’t something that people pay as much attention to,” says Talia ’19 who represents the visual arts. “There are art shows and ‘art kids,’ but we want people to accept that art isn’t a secondary curriculum but a class that is more than just a hobby.”
Carly ‘20 leads the performing side of the arts council. “We want to connect the school with performing arts,” explains Carly. “Sometimes people think you are only in performing arts if you are in the class and if you aren’t in the class, then you aren’t in performing arts. We want to bridge that gap so everyone can be part of this wonderful experience.”
Finally, the Athletics Council holds the responsibility of providing leadership formation and consistency for captains of all Breck athletic teams.
“The Student Athletic Council is a council for all captains of sports teams to come together to learn how to be a better captain and leader,” says David ’19. “We understand that each team has a different culture so we want to identify those cultures and see how we can support them. As captains, we want to bridge the gap between coaches and parents and coaches and the athletic director.”
The work of all of these students is what creates the climate and culture of Breck. While it is always a work-in-progress, their goal as student-leaders is to bring the community together.
“We created these branches [of student leadership] to unify our entire community,” adds David. “All the people who lead a council are people anyone can talk to. We work with each other to share ideas and bring events into the community.”
Congratulations to Emre Adabag, Margaret Broyles, Andrew Cheng, James Clinton, Samantha Detor, Gunnar Evenstad, Ekemini Jones, Grace Medeiros, Sam Schoenecker, Dylan Vincent, and Niels Wu, who were named National Merit Semifinalists by the College Board.
Beth Gaffga returns to Breck as our new Middle School English Teacher.