When Uyen Nguyen joined MCDS as a fourth grade teacher in August of 2021, she knew she wanted to develop leadership opportunities for her students. Ms. Nguyen, who came to MCDS with years of experience teaching within International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years Programme, or PYP, sees student leadership skills as a key component of the PYP curriculum. “As we move into building a more robust Primary Years Programme in the lower school, students should always be supported to take action within their school and within the different units of inquiry,” she says.
Along with Zoe Lolis, who also teaches fourth grade, Ms. Nguyen orchestrated a leadership summit for her students last fall. “The conference was a whole-day event that encouraged students to assume leadership roles, team building, and having international mindedness,” Ms. Nguyen explains. The summit showed students how they could take an active role in shaping their experience at school and in the world.
One way Ms. Nguyen wanted her students to practice their new leadership skills was by taking part in student council at MCDS. Last year, for the first time, fourth graders elected representatives to student government. Throughout the year, three sets of fourth graders got the chance to gather input from their classmates and meet with Ms. Nguyen and lower school administrators, speaking up for their lower school peers.
“Leaders are not telling people what to do, they’re examples. Leaders are brave. Leaders are role models.”
The fourth grade reps eagerly rose to the challenge of their new role. They created a program called Hallway Encouragers to model good behavior between class time and during recess. They reduced running in the hallways by rewarding students showing good behavior with stickers. “Leaders are not telling people what to do, they’re examples,” explains Jonathan, one of the fourth grade student council members. “Leaders are brave. Leaders are role models. If you don’t have anyone to look up to, you don’t have a goal.”
Students reps also organized successful fundraisers including a coin drive and a bake sale. They contributed the money they collected to the new Wellness Center and student spaces throughout the school. The students learned about the election process as well. “It was fun making your campaign speeches and getting elected,” says Eleanor, another of the fourth grade reps. “I also really liked how everyone’s ideas got heard.”
The fourth graders’ leadership learning culminated in MCDS’s first ever PYP Exhibition, a capstone event for the program during which students showcase their independent learning skills. Normally, schools do not conduct a PYP Exhibition during their candidacy year for the PYP Programme, but through extraordinary planning and teamwork, Ms. Nguyen, Ms. Lolis, and their students were able to do just that.
Students and teachers investigated and planned together throughout the year to prepare. “My fourth graders . . . had to research an issue that they are passionate about, become knowledgeable on all things surrounding that issue, and then research a personal or community action they can take to help it,” explains Ms. Lolis. Students presented their findings to their peers, teachers, families, and the MCDS community. As a result of their efforts for the exhibition, students orchestrated a lower school wear pink day to support women’s and girls’ rights, they made bookmarks to promote awareness of the issues they researched, and they even spoke to the governor about pollution.
“Building these leadership experiences at a young age helps fourth graders know that one person can make a difference at any age,” adds Ms. Nguyen. “I hope it also encourages them to make a great and more impactful action in their . . . communities, city, or even country, and into their adult life.”
from Onward magazine, Vol. 17 (Fall 2022–2023)