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School district launches student leadership summits

Mark Parker

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Students from St. Petersburg’s 74th Street Elementary School were among the 312 that participated in the school district's first Student Leadership Summit. Photos by Mark Parker.

Pinellas County Schools (PCS) Superintendent Kevin Hendrick realizes there is much to learn from listening to students; he also understands they are the next generation of local leaders.

PCS launched its first-ever Student Leadership Summit at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg this week. Over 300 4th and 5th graders from 78 elementary schools participated in the two-day event, along with parent chaperones and teachers.

The summit’s goal is twofold: Hendrick and other district leaders listened to and learned from a diverse group of students, and the children participated in activities that teach them team building and leadership skills.

Hendrick told the Catalyst that PCS has offered “tremendous experiences” for decades. However, only a few students from each school could participate. He said that makes for a good photo opportunity or news story but does not create lasting change.

“So, we wanted to create something impactful beyond today,” said Hendrick. “We want these student leaders to go back to their schools and recreate the sessions.”

Hendrick became superintendent last May and held a series of community “Listen and Learn” sessions from July through September. About a thousand adults participated, but a student in the PCS journalism program asked, “what about kids?”

Parent chaperones and students discuss scavenger hunt clues.

The new superintendent realized the value of that proposition and decided to create an event that would allow district leaders to gather feedback from students. Hendrick explained that the student leaders provided feedback on 14 questions from their perspectives during Wednesday morning’s listen-and-learn session.

The 4th and 5th graders will conduct similar events at their elementary schools so classmates can offer suggestions or discuss issues pertinent to that facility. The district will repeat the process in February with a Middle School Summit and again in March with county high schools.

Hendrick also stressed the importance of participants representing their entire school rather than just the highest achievers. One parent from each of the 78 schools served as a chaperone, and he said the event also provides a chance for them to witness how PCS officials talk to children, treat one another and organize activities for hundreds of children.

“The feedback from parents so far, and we’re a day and a half in, has been nothing but positive,” said Hendrick. “Some of those parents I may never see again, but they’re going to talk about this experience they had – and how great Pinellas County Schools is doing for their children.”

Adrene Blagrove is one of those parents. She accompanied her daughter, Threna, a 5th grader at St. Petersburg’s 74th Street Elementary School. A visibly excited Threna couldn’t wait to start a scavenger hunt, and Blagrove called the event a “wonderful experience.”

“Both for us as chaperones and for the kids,” she added. “Leadership skills are a very good thing we have to always teach our kids, and I feel like this has absolutely been a great experience for them.”

The scavenger hunt taught the kids problem-solving skills and let them explore the St. Petersburg campus. Hendrick relayed that a 5th grader told him that he never thought about college but said the summit “opened my eyes.”

Hendrick also credited Regional Chancellor Christian Hardigree for opening the campus to hundreds of children, and noted college advisors were on hand to recruit future generations of USF Bulls.

“The same way that I said to you how I want people to walk out of here going, ‘that was amazing,’ she (Hardigree) wants the same thing,” said Hendrick. “And we’ve had that treatment from her staff. They’ve been great helping us.”

The summit also provides children with the chance to explore the St. Petersburg campus and learn about college opportunities.

He noted that the older students on campus extended the same hospitality, with some allowing their younger counterparts to tour their dorm rooms. “They’re showing themselves to be great partners as well,” Hendrick added.

He said Hardigree invited PCS back next year, and Hendrick looks forward to hearing the results of the participant-led discussions at the county’s elementary schools. Most of all, he hopes to see the recently instilled skills students learned at the summit make a difference in not just their lives but the lives of others.

“I talked to students this morning about how great leaders aren’t great leaders because they themselves are good,” said Hendrick. “You have to bring others along with you.”

 

 

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    Shirley Hayes

    January 25, 2023at7:41 pm

    I would love to know what the district learned from the students.

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