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Student Government

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Just about every North American high school -- and some middle and elementary schools -- has a student council. If you think it would be fun to have your name on a ballot, give student government a try.

"My estimate is that 95 percent of secondary schools have some form of student government or student leadership," says Dave Conlon, student activity director at a high school.

Conlon is also the communications director for an association of student activity directors. He says his group has a database of just over 2,750 schools that receive the association newsletter.

The National Association of Student Councils has about 9,000 member schools in the United States.

Student government is open to and attracts a wide range of students with varying abilities and experiences. The main executive positions tend to be filled through election by a student body. But most councils also have non-elected positions for class representatives or committee members.

In addition, there are often leadership classes or clubs providing all students with the opportunity to participate.

Elected members and volunteers from junior and senior grades might work together on the next school dance, provide the school district with input into a dress code policy, or spearhead fan support for the next big basketball game.

Sound like fun? Well, student government is also educational.

Leadership and other skills gained through high school government can be helpful for anyone, but especially for aspiring politicians.

"Student government is like a co-op placement for political life within your school. You get to find out if you like working with and for people. Many politicians have been involved in student government in their early schooling, but not all student leaders choose the political life," says Conlon.

Troy Hashimoto is a regional representative for the National Association of Student Councils. He agrees that student government is an excellent step in preparing for a political career.

"Getting involved in student government will definitely help you develop the skills which may help you in a political career or even in participation at the post-secondary level," he says.

"It also gives you a sense of (whether) you are truly a people person or not."

"I know many students who have gone on to major in political science who were involved with student government in high school," adds Katie Sciortino, a student council member at St. Scholastica Academy in Chicago.

Getting Started

Getting involved could be as easy as signing up during a noon-hour meeting. Or it could involve a several-week campaign during which you must earn the support of your peers.

Either way, there's generally room for anyone interested.

"The elected students always need the help and support of those 'shy' students who love to get involved but don't want to run an election campaign. This is often the best way to learn what student government is about, to get involved in making your school a better place to attend and to meet some very interesting people," says Conlon.

"In order to plan or effectively carry out an event, you need all types of people," says Sciortino. "Just because a kid is shy does not mean that they do not have some great ideas or are not really hard workers."


A youth leadership development information clearinghouse

National Council on Youth Leadership
A program offering high school students the chance to learn leadership skills through work with community health resources

Advanced Public Speaking Institute
Student summer camps and seminars on public speaking

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