Students lead by their own example

The University leadership minor pairs students with middle-schoolers.

A lot of eighth-graders have trouble organizing their lockers, but with the help of some University students, groups from Saint Bernard’s School in St. Paul were able to organize an entire cleanup day in their neighborhood last Saturday.

The field experience course in the University’s leadership minor program teams University students with middle school students to affect change in their community.

Each year, the St. Bernard’s students think of issues in their community, public relations junior Natalie Hoover said. The middle-schoolers did most of the work and University students only coached them along.

“They got everything: The food, the people, the donations,” Hoover said. “They really took the initiative and made this all come together.”

The event, held on St. Paul’s north end, was called “Rice Street Cleanup Day.”

The leadership minor was first offered in spring 2000, according to its Web site. The field experience, leadership coordinator Linnette Werner said, is the third course of the program.

This experience goes beyond other community service-related courses, because this experience is more about creating systemic change, she said.

“We’re trying to help (University) students become truly effective community leaders,” Werner said. “They have a responsibility when they get into their community to be the people who look at problems and solve them.”

Biology and prepharmacy junior Brittany Hogan, who helped organize the event, said she chose the leadership minor because it’s not just another course she’ll forget about.

“I think this will carry into my career and to the rest of my life,” she said. “You learn how to manage a team and the different ways to lead.”

The field experience course has been paired with the Saint Bernard’s public achievement program since the leadership minor’s beginning, Saint Bernard’s principal Jennifer Cassidy said. The school stops class for an hour a week to spend time working toward public achievement, she said.

The public achievement program, which is required for all sixth- through eighth-graders, helps students create change in the community, she said.

“If they see something in their community that’s not right, they can’t just sit and complain,” Cassidy said. “They have to do something about it. Hopefully we’ve given them the tools to do that.”

Past projects St. Bernard’s students worked on were getting handicap accessibility to their school building, a student center and a sports complex in the community, site coordinator Jeff Maurer said.

“Teachers talk about things around the world or community that (students) might want to do something about,” he said. “They plant the seeds in the students.”

Many of the University students were surprised the middle school was able to organize such a large event and think critically about community issues.

“They’re amazing – they’ve gone beyond our expectations,” Hogan said. “They’re smart kids. They keep surprising me.”

Saint Bernard’s eighth-grader Azaieya Blair said the University students gave the middle-schoolers support and encouragement. She said working together to make a difference in her community was the best part of the project.

“This is where we live and this where we go to school,” she said. “It was really fun.”