We are thankful for the opportunity to work with 23 schools in the Cedar Valley region. This month’s school feature is Blessed Maria Assunta Pallotta Middle School which is a part of the Cedar Valley Catholic Schools. Each month, we have the opportunity to ask questions to schools in our region about the impact of Leader Valley and Leader in Me.

What paradigms are integral to creating a leadership culture at your school?

There are two paradigms that have become the focus of our leadership initiative at Blessed Maria Assunta Pallotta: The Paradigm of Leadership and the Paradigm of Potential. We strive to make BMAP an environment where every student can discover their gifts and have leadership opportunities to use them. Being a Catholic school, our faith is at the center of everything we do. The message of the Gospels and the examples of the Saints demonstrate how anyone can make a difference and be of service in both large ways and small. So too, students can take on large leadership roles – like planning the activities for Catholic Schools Week – while others take on smaller but equally important leadership roles – like leading an interest group during LEAD class.

What are your school’s “big rocks” as it relates to creating a leadership culture? 

We have always been proud of BMAP being like a family, where 6th, 7th, and 8th graders create connections within their own grade level but also across grade levels. However, the current procedures that are in place for our safety during the pandemic have created feelings of distance and isolation. Especially for those students who are virtual while others are in person.

Blessed Maria Assunta Pallotta Middle School

This is a picture of the Student Lighthouse Team doing some Christmas decorating in the Commons. They asked students to make ornaments with their families to adorn our trees.

Thus, one of our big rocks this year is to find new ways to rebuild that sense of community, being particularly diligent to find ways to include those students who are virtual. Our student lighthouse team members are planning small gestures to remind every student that they have a place and belong within our school family. Our recent music concert included both virtual singers and virtual band members.

Another of our big rocks is to help continue the empowerment of our teachers, as well as our students, within the Leader in Me culture. When we began Leader in Me in our school, we had a few key people who really helped kick start our program. They were integral to getting everything set up and keeping us on track. When they stepped down from that leadership position, we floundered for a while, stuck in the rut of “that’s the way it has always been done.” We didn’t have a clear picture any more of who we are and what we want to accomplish. This period of struggle has been a positive growth experience for the staff. It has been exciting to see new people step up with different ideas for how we can develop leadership within our school.

What are the results you have seen as it relates to leadership, culture, and academics?

One of the biggest results we have seen is the impact of voice and choice on the evolution of student leadership within our school. Instead of activities being planned by teachers and students being given a script to read, the activities themselves are being generated, planned, and executed by the students. From school-wide events like the “Dodging for a Cure” dodgeball tournament that raised money for the American Cancer Society, Catholic Schools week, to the food drive.

On a smaller level, we have our weekly Masses, which call for student song leaders, student liturgical readers, students to set up the Mass environment within our commons, and students creating reflection questions for their peers to use to delve deeper into their understanding of the message of Mass and how it impacts our daily lives. In the last few years we have had students, both individually and in small groups, lead what we have called “Interest Groups” during our LEAD time (the 30 minute time across from lunch). Students chose topics that they were interested in – drawing, photography, sports, fashion, anime, board games, card games, coding, sewing, etc. – and created lessons and activities, and taught their peers about that topic. They would have to lead two activities a week for four to five weeks.

It was amazing to see students that didn’t typically step up to take on leadership roles volunteer to lead an interest group. While interest groups don’t look quite the same this year, due to safety procedures, we are still striving to provide this opportunity for the students. Similarly, in recent years, we have students take the concept of the interest groups a step further, by planning and running groups both before and after school. While interest groups were contained within a specific grade, before and after school groups were open to all three grades, such as the chess club and the Pokémon club.

What are a few key stories that illustrate the impact of Leader in Me for students?

Due to Covid, the STEM classes needed table dividers. The commercial ones were not cheap. The Tech students were approached to see if they could design and build their own with PVC pipe and clear shower curtains. The students figured out the measurements, cut the PVC pipe, cut and adhered the shower curtains.

Blessed Maria Assunta Pallotta Middle School

Their design worked. They ended up 3D printing some bases to make these more stable. We offered our services and talents to our elementary building. Tech students went to St. Edward, again took measurements, basically replicated their original design, and simply made everything smaller. This was a huge saving to our schools as well as a great engineering project for our students.

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