SUNDERLAND — In January, American eyes were riveted by the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the 46th President and Vice President of the United States. That same month, Sunderland Elementary made some history of its own when following the holiday break, Ava Linendoll became the first president, and Harper Mait the first vice president, of the Student Council.
The idea for the new student government body at Sunderland began with coverage of the national Presidential election. As two friends, Heidi Magrath and Penelope Kimball, discussed the campaign developments, they decided there was a need for a forum where students could raise issues to the teachers and administration at their school. To the girls, the solution was creating a local student government.
Magrath and Kimball took their concept to Sunderland Elementary Principal, Jenn Turner. In her role as an educator, Turner listened, then suggested they do some research and report back with specifics, such as how the Student Council would function: Who would be included? How would it run? When would they meet? What did they want to accomplish?
Magrath and Kimball proved they were no laggards. They were back in front of Turner in mere days, with a formal program for a student government and a PowerPoint presentation to boot.
The president and vice president would be elected by the student body.
The candidates would run as a team. One representative from each classroom would be selected by a lottery of interested students. The council would meet every two weeks, on Friday.
As Turner listened to their pitch, one question came to mind. “I knew they were planning on running for office and I was worried about how they would feel if they lost the election.
They both said that they knew that was possible, but starting the student council was more important than winning the campaign.”
In other words, the girls understood that democracy can be messy and heartbreaking, but the ultimate lesson is that the decision always belongs to the voters. The Sunderland Student Council campaign took place in December. The three teams that ran for office were each asked to produce an election document that could be distributed online.
They were asked to address questions like why they wanted the office and what they would do if elected. The results included a slide presentation, campaign video, and 30-second commercials.
The candidates highlighted issues ranging from raising funds to purchase library books and soccer nets to more time to connect in-person and remote learning students to added recess that would reduce stress to more holiday parties.
The election was held the final week in December with sixth-graders Ava Linendoll and Harper Mait coming out on top. Their campaign emphasized their perspective as both remote (Linendoll) and in-person (Mait) learners. The challengers, sixth-graders Heidi Magrath (president) and Penelope Kimball (vice president) and fifth-graders Byron Cochran (president) and Brenner Underhill (vice president) each ran a strong race. The new officeholders hit the ground running in January with two meetings, as planned in the original proposal. The first session on Jan. 15 featured introductions, established meeting norms, confirmed the purpose of the student council and defined the roles and responsibilities of the members. In the second meeting on Jan. 29, the Council got down to work, creating new winter playground guidelines. This came from students’ frustration about snow structures being destroyed. The Council will now follow-up with a video to share the new guidelines with students.
“The creation and development of the Sunderland Student Council has been a great hands-on lesson in democracy,” Turner said. “Not everyone can win a campaign, but everyone wins when our voices can be heard.”