Hoya Leadership Council is making positive change at HHS

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Huntsville High School has ditched the old student parliament model and formed the Hoya Leadership Council, which gives students more leadership responsibility and more involvement in what’s going on in the school.

At the end of last school year, teachers visited each classroom to explain the new model. Students were invited to submit their interest in participating before summer break.

“The application process takes away the aspect of the voting and it being a popularity contest,” said member Luke Murphy. “This new model allows for a wider range of input to be brought in, making it more about student voice than ever before. I have been on parliament in previous years and this year really demonstrates the difference. It’s a much less stressful environment but allows us to do even more.”

Just three months into the school year there are already 22 active members, and various events and projects have already taken place.

“Our new parliament allows for a more diverse crowd as we’re getting people who wouldn’t necessarily run for a set role but now they feel comfortable,” said member Raylene Schultz.

At their weekly meetings, leadership council members split up into smaller groups and they each work on projects that interest them, rather than all working on one project at the same time.

“It’s more efficient having a group like this because we support each other and we don’t feel overwhelmed,” added Hannah Cassidy.

Staff leaders involved with the council are teacher Vanessa Taylor, principal Alison Turnbull, and head of student services Nico Byl; Andrea Laidlaw is the head of the Student Wellness Team which is a subgroup of the Hoyas Leadership Council.

“The engagement of the students has already improved from past years. Students are taking on projects they’re really passionate about and we’re seeing stronger follow through,” said Taylor. “It used to be hard to keep up the momentum of the group because interest would wane off but now students hold more leadership roles and are more accountable working within smaller subgroups.”

Projects to date this school year include monthly assemblies to build up school spirit, the Terry Fox walk and barbecue, orange shirt day, camo day, Hoya-gear sales, “Hallo-week” with a haunted house and costume contests. A semi-formal is being planned for next month.

HHS students and staff got in the Halloween spirit for Halloweek (Vanessa Taylor)

HHS students and staff got in the Halloween spirit for Halloweek (Vanessa Taylor)

At the beginning of November, the Student Wellness Team launched the “Positivi-tree”, a tree of positive sticky notes at the entrance of the school. Students can take one of the notes and either keep it for themselves or pass it onto another student. They can also add a note to brighten someone else’s day.

“We have sort of addressed mental health in the past but this year we wanted to directly address student mental wellness and provide avenues of ongoing support throughout the year,” said Taylor.

The Positivi-tree offers words of encouragement to students (Vanessa Taylor)

The Positivi-tree offers words of encouragement to students (Vanessa Taylor)

Many of these ideas were brainstormed from comments received from the HHS Student Climate Survey which generated conversation about what changes the students want to see happen at the school this year.

Survey topics included mental health, where students eat their lunch, participation around school events, and what sorts of groups interest them.

“We found in the survey that many students said they were uncomfortable eating in the cafeteria and had no clue where to eat. Some even said it limits what they bring for lunch so leadership council members are going to start eating in there hoping that it creates a more welcoming environment,” said Cassidy.

The Tea Locker is another positive mental health initiative. It contains free items like feminine hygiene products and school supplies, as well as free tea bags that students can take to the library where there is a kettle available. The locker also contains the Spill the Tea initiative―a box where students can put notes of concern or feedback, as well as discretely reach out for help, an members of the council will follow up.

Murphy said a future project he’s excited for this year is bringing goat yoga to HHS as part of the council’s mental wellness initiatives.

The Hoya Leadership Council plans to continue to analyze survey results to make more positive changes to the school’s climate.

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