AWR Student Council Makes a Difference in School and Community
For the first time in its history, Allen W. Roberts School has launched a Student Council that has raised money for charitable organizations and for college scholarships.
It’s not every day that you hear about elementary school students making a difference in their school and community.
But with this year’s inception of the Allen W. Roberts Elementary School Student Council, it’s become a common occurrence.
“We thought it would be a nice idea to give the students a little more of a voice,” said AWR Assistant Principal Justin Fiory, who played a major role in launching the Student Council.
Fiory explained that he and former Principal Michael Barcadepone recently began an “Administrators Lunch” initiative where teachers chose students to have lunch with members of the school administration once a month. It was during those lunches that Fiory and Barcadepone began having conversations with the kids about what was going on in the school at the time.
“You kind of get a whole different perspective when you really take the opportunity to listen to what the kids have to say,” said the Assistant Principal.
From there, they began the process of creating an AWR Student Council with the goal of providing the kids with an opportunity to express their thoughts and ideas, and to use them to make a difference in their school.
Jessica Malangone, a fifth grade Language Arts and Social Studies teacher, stepped up to the task of heading the council and collaborated with Fiory, school guidance counselor Marcia WanVeer, and other administrators to create a vision for the AWR Student Council.
“I felt, after starting (as a teacher) here last year, that this is such a warm environment and they’re already doing so much that we could just give the kids even more of a voice by having it structured,” Malangone said.
It was decided that each homeroom in grades 3 to 6 would vote two classroom representatives and one alternate to the school’s Student Council for a total of more than 30 students who would be involved in the organization.
Elections were planned for the same day as national Election Day, and those interested in representing their classes prepared speeches to present to their peers. Malangone said as much as two thirds of each class ran for a position on the Student Council.
Through the combined efforts of Malangone, Fiory and other school members, an authentic voting booth and digital ballot were created for students to use to submit their votes.
“It wasn’t a popularity contest,” said Fiory of the election. “They truly listened to the speeches and chose the person who they felt was going to make the biggest difference and do the right thing.”
Gabrielle Heffernan, one of the fifth grade representatives from Malangone’s homeroom class, said she decided to run for Student Council because she hoped to be able to improve her school.
“I was thinking that Roberts is a great school, but you can always make something better,” said the 11-year-old. “And I’d like to just be a part of something extra and do something that can help Roberts get better.”
Fellow representative Alli Pitarresi expressed similar thoughts about wanting to improve her school and Alternate Jonathan Hua added, “I wanted to join the Student Council because I thought, 'I have great ideas for what the school could be.'”
Since Election Day in the fall, the AWR Student Council has not only made a difference in their own school, but has impacted their community as well.
The Student Council’s first project was to get involved in the school’s monthly Spirit Days. Traditionally, one day each month, students collectively show support of their AWR community by participating in a fun day, such as crazy hair day or a day when students wear patriotic colors to school.
In the past, decisions about the Spirit Days had been made by the PTA. But with the new Student Council in place, the administrators decided to let the kids get involved and to find a way for them to connect the Spirit Days with a message of community service.
As a result, council members from each grade level came up with an original Spirit Day theme and related it to a charity of their choice. One memorable day was Pajama Day, when students wore their pajamas to school and brought a donation for Pajama Program, an organization that provides books and pajamas to children in need. Another Spirit Day was when students were encouraged to bring their favorite stuffed animal to school and to donate pet supplies to Eleventh Hour Rescue.
“Everything was student-generated,” said Malangone of the ideas for each of the Spirit Days and their respective charities. She went on to recount how the students spent hours researching charities online and even assisted her in making telephone calls to the organizations to ask questions and find out more about how they, as students, could be involved.
Another huge effort made by the Student Council during the past year was their goal of awarding a graduating high school senior, who was once an AWR student, with a college scholarship.
The scholarship idea was suggested by Student Council supervisors Fiory and Malangone, and Fiory said that the students quickly jumped on it. As a group, they set a goal of $750 for the award that would be presented to a high school graduate based solely on his or her involvement in community service.
“We said, if we’re going to do this, it has to be generated from you guys and you have to come up with the ideas on how to raise the money. It has to come from you,” recalled Fiory about first suggesting the concept to the Student Council.
And the council certainly followed through.
They began by creating a booth at the holiday Care Fair, a school-wide event where students choose a charity to donate to instead of spending their money on gifts for themselves. Fiory said the Student Council raised $450 for the scholarship at the Care Fair this past winter.
While brainstorming ideas for ways to raise the additional funds, it was an eight-year-old third-grader who proposed that they ask the cafeteria about donating a percentage of its profits to the cause.
The Student Council drafted a letter requesting 10% of the earnings from the school’s food sales on a day to be chosen by the cafeteria. The cafeteria responded that they would be willing to help and not only would they offer to host the fundraiser on “Pizza Friday,” but they would also offer to donate a full 50% of the day’s funds.
At the end of the day, the Student Council received a check of $400 for their scholarship fund as a result of the cooperation from the cafeteria and Pomptonian Food Services.
But the council’s fund-raising ideas didn’t stop at the cafeteria door. They extended the concept of getting others involved by approaching the newly-opened Smashburger with a similar request of 10% of the store’s profits on a day of their choice. The Smashburger organization agreed to help and to contribute 20% of their earnings, for a total contribution of $550.
For their final effort, the Student Council generated an idea for a car wash, and recruited the help of teachers and classmates to assist them with the fundraiser. By the afternoon’s end, they were able to add an extra $700 to the scholarship award.
“We certainly surpassed the goal we had put in place and it was totally because of the work the kids did,” Fiory said.
At the beginning of June, two sixth grade students from the Allen W. Roberts Student Council were chosen to present not one, but two $1,000 AWR Student Council Service Scholarships to high school seniors Tara Wager and Lev Litichevskiy.
“Seeing the kids working together and seeing them be so genuinely excited to do something for someone else—this is why we did this!” said Malangone of the success of the AWR Student Council this year.
“[The students] have a voice, they have a say in things, and the ideas that they come up with are actually coming true and they can see the outcome of it,” said Fiory of the difference the Student Council has made in the school. “They feel that they now make a difference in the things they do.”
As he looks ahead to a second year of Student Council at Roberts School, Fiory said that he hopes to set higher goals and to potentially reach out to more businesses in the community next year.
Student Council Members Heffernan, Pitarresi and Hua said that there are still things that they’d like to see improved in the school, including healthier lunch options in the cafeteria, more money for their scholarship project, more scholarships for graduating seniors, and changes in their gym class structure.
All three students plan to run for Student Council again next year.
Malangone said, “My goal out of all of this is to really empower the students—to make them see that they have phenomenal ideas and to show them that they can really make a difference.”