Students develop leadership skills in HM Lead

Ayesha Sen and Sophia Liu

In HM Lead, the Middle Division (MD) student government program, students work on projects that serve the interests of their peers while also exercising their leadership skills, MD history teacher and Student Activities Coordinator Caitlin Hickerson said. This year, the organization is divided into four sub-committees: the Horace Mann Broadcasting Network (HMBN), Service Learning, Student Activities, and Marketing, which will soon be replaced by a new subcommittee called Student Representatives, she said.

The goal of HM Lead is to allow MD students to become leaders in their community by encouraging them to work together to plan events, Hickerson said. “At the beginning of the year, [the advisors and I] will plant some seeds by suggesting activities that have been successful in the past, or programs that the Division would like to implement, but how they run is up to the students, and as the year progresses, the students gradually become more central to brainstorming the initial ideas,” she said.

Students who are interested in joining HM Lead fill out a questionnaire, which also helps them understand if the program is the right fit for them, Hickerson said. The questionnaire informs the faculty advisors of the makeup and interests of the group as well as which ideas may be on the agenda for the year, she said. “All students who are interested in working collaboratively, willing to bring their ideas to life, and able to commit to joining us consistently are welcome.”

At the beginning of weekly meetings, which occur on Mondays after school, the entire group gathers to participate in a leadership training activity led by Hickerson, she said. Then, students break out into their committees to work on their projects for about 30 minutes. After the committees meet, the full group gathers again to debrief and share their progress.

Anyi Sharma (7) joined HM Lead in sixth grade. “I heard that HM Lead was doing all of these projects for the middle school community, and I thought it would be fun to meet people who also wanted to do these community projects,” she said. Sharma is part of the subcommittee HMBN, which focuses on filming and editing videos that are broadcasted to the whole school, she said. 

So far, the HMBN subcommittee has released one video that introduced new members of the faculty and students, which was posted on Powerschool and emailed to the entire division, Lauren Butler (6), said. Currently, they are working on a PSA about “do’s and don’ts” on Zoom, she said.

This past trimester, Julia Lourenco (7) worked on the Marketing subcommittee. There, Lourenco helped create a logo for HM Lead’s events, which was their main project for the trimester. During HM Online, Lourenco hopes that the Marketing subcommittee will be able to further expand its program by creating and putting up posters that advertise various HM Lead events at school, she said.

Nikki Pande (8), who joined HM Lead this year, worked with the Student Activities sub-committee this past trimester, she said. So far, they have planned a Zoom room for people who may not have activities to occupy them during lunch, Pande said. In the room, students play games and meet members of the community across the grades, she said.

HM Lead also works to improve life in the MD by asking the student body for suggestions on how to improve their MD experience, MD history teacher and HMBN advisor Eric Cadena said. The students set up after-school activities and service-learning opportunities as well, he said.

Faculty advisors of HM Lead have tried to ease the transition to a virtual format for the students so that the organization continues to meet its goals, Hickerson said. Hickerson creates weekly breakout rooms so that sub-committees can meet together in a separate space. Both advisors and students have tried to keep the same routines, although it is difficult to do so, Hickerson said. “The projects and events have to be virtual, which can feel limiting, but we are trying to be creative.”

In fact, there have even been some advantages to the virtual format, Sharma said. The planning and brainstorming have been the same, as the group used Google Docs even before the school went remote, she said. “For HMBN, it’s a lot easier to film, because we can just record our Zoom meetings now,” she said. 

By participating in HM Lead, Sharma has learned far more about the organization, she said. In particular, she has learned about the importance of communication, especially during HM Online. “In our committees, if we really want to get to our goal, we have to work in and out of school,” Sharma said.

The students have helped Hickerson learn many different ways to get input from the MD, she said. “When asked for ideas, they know what works,” she said. “They teach me how to be a good leader all the time.”

This year in particular, Cadena has learned about his students’ devotion to their community even when things get rough, he said. “When our students set out to accomplish something, they do it, and they do it well,” he said. “It’s amazing to see how an idea becomes a reality and it’s all student-led.”

Whether virtual or in-person, HM Lead continues to give students the opportunity to develop their leadership roles in their community, Hickerson said. “I hope that the students will learn that they are capable, creative, collaborative leaders who have the skills to make a positive difference in their communities.”