Team-building retreat kicks off new CMS Student Council |

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Team-building retreat kicks off new CMS Student Council

Judy Harris, a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Craig Middle School, directs an exercise during a CMS leadership retreat Thursday in the back room of Serendipity Café & Coffee Shop. The students will be part of a new council that will give the CMS student body a voice.

The room had grown quiet while seventh-grader Clayton Moon slowly ticked off ideas he had written down on a Post-It note.

Each student sitting on the carpet Thursday of Serendipity Café & Coffee Shop had taken turns voicing their ideas while Clayton organized them.

Another student was in charge of writing them into a coherent paragraph on a large sheet of paper tacked to the wall.

The quiet, orderly process was a far cry from the chaos of minutes before, when the Craig Middle School students were shouting out sentences and writing them down without deliberation.

CMS literacy teacher Judy Harris smiled at her students from her seat at the back of the room, thrilled that they had figured out on their own exactly what the activity was supposed to teach them.

Seventh-grader Autumn Dob­son summed up the group's problems after the activity was over, saying it was confusing, unorganized and difficult to try to achieve a common goal without a leader and a plan.

"When we're all saying stuff at the same time, it's hard to work together to do the same thing," she said.

The day-long leadership re­­­­treat for 12 CMS students Thurs­­day was the first of its kind.

Historically, CMS has had no student council to represent its student body.

Harris and a few other teachers decided it was time to change that.

"We had a food drive before Christmas, and some of the teachers were wondering, 'Don't we have a student council to go around and pump up the different classrooms?'" Harris said. "And we didn't."

Teachers nominated four students from each grade to go to the leadership retreat and be a part of the pilot program. Harris hopes to work toward having an election for student council for the 2010-11 school year.

"We didn't necessarily want it to be a popularity contest," she said. "The teachers chose kids who other kids look up to. They looked for kids who had demonstrated leadership and who could own up to their mistakes.

"They picked quiet kids and rowdy ones."

But Harris knew the chosen students might not be prepared to work as a group to make decisions and deal with different leadership styles.

She organized the retreat so the students could get to know one another and participate in team-building activities.

One of those activities designated a leader to direct the group in writing a paragraph about why they were at the retreat and doing activities in the first place.

That's when all order broke down and chaos set in

"If you're checked out and just think, 'Oh, there are good writers here, they can take care of it,' then you can't answer any questions about it later," Harris said. "Everybody needs to be engaged. This is a really important task."

When the students assembled for lunch, they reflected on their experiences that morning.

Most agreed they all had to work harder to keep the side conversations to a minimum, as well as to be quieter and better listeners.

The students agreed that the morning had been nothing short of fun, and they said they enjoyed meeting new people.

Some added that they didn't know how difficult group decision-making could be.

"It was hard," eighth-grader Derek Maiolo said. "It's hard to be a good leader, especially with your peers. You always care about what people think about you and being the boss. … I don't know, it's hard."

He said the talking and confusion was just a part of having a group of students all working together.

"Personally, I think compared to a regular classroom we did pretty good," he said. "It's good to have that kind of energy when we're planning activities and things."

Harris said she hopes the students will take the skills they learned Thursday at Serendipity back to their classrooms and to future student council meetings.

"We wanted to have a process for getting student ideas," Harris said. "And for the students to feel like they have a voice in things."

Nicole Inglis can be reached at 875-1793, or