Middle Schoolers take charge in leadership club

Sophie Q. Li and Max Chasin

HM Lead is a Middle Division (MD) after school program that is designed to help students develop leadership skills and put them to use, Faculty Advisor Caitlin Hickerson said.

“HM Lead is a leadership program where you take roles of leadership around the community and help coordinate events that involve the middle division,” Sarina Shah (8) said. 

The program’s primary values include motivating oneself and others, making informed decisions, public speaking, and building connections with others, Hickerson said. She and her colleagues focus deeply on leadership development, not just putting students in a position of leadership, she said. “Instead of saying, ‘ok now you’re going to lead’, it was about ‘how does one lead?’”  

HM lead was created many years ago by a former colleague of Hickersons, she said. The program was a transition away from student government elections to create a more inclusive atmosphere, she said. “Anyone can develop the skills of leadership and there are many.” 

The club meets after school on Monday each week in the atrium. HM Lead’s meetings start with a leadership question or 15 minute group activity every week. “We may be introducing ourselves to each other, mingling, and finding someone we haven’t spoken to.”

A memorable group activity was one in which the students checked off skills that they thought they had, on a sheet, Lilia Scola (8) said. “It leveled out to four different columns, north, south, east, or west. North was more of a leader, south was a listener and supporter, and east and west were creative and analytical. Especially in our committees, there were some trends. HMBN seemed to mostly have analytical people,” she said. It was interesting to see what everyone’s strengths were, she said.

After the initial activity, students divide into their committee rooms to plan and execute their ongoing projects, Hickerson said. During this stage, a faculty advisor facilitates the students’ progress by asking them what steps they are taking and whether they are working. Finally, the group reconvenes in the last few minutes to debrief and state what they accomplished this meeting. 

Since HM Lead is open to the entire MD, Scola has formed strong bonds to people of different grades, she said. As an eighth grader, she has naturally taken a leadership role in her committee with two other sixth graders. She is able to express everybody’s ideas and make everyone heard, she said.  

The program is divided into four committees: Student Representatives, Student Activities, Horace Mann Broadcasting Network (HMBN), and Special Events. Student Representatives ensures students have the resources they need to thrive, Scola said.

Currently, Student Representatives is sending out a questionnaire to see what MD students like about their community, such as the academic center and school food. Once the feedback is received, they plan to go to the adults of each location and discuss how they can implement some changes, Scola said. Next, Student Activities organizes events for the community. 

HMBN covers school-related events in videos that are aired at MD assemblies, Hickerson said. Nakul Sethi (6) chose to join HMBN because he likes to edit videos and be creative, he said. 

Special Events puts on assemblies for MD. Their service learning theme this year is “A Climate Healthy Future For All.” Last semester, Special Events put on an assembly, where the school invited a climate change lawyer to speak, Hickerson said. The students interviewed him in front of the MD, asking him about the work he does, she said. Currently, Special Events is planning a climate changed themed carnival, Shah said. 

Due to COVID, some events that normally take place, such as the movie night, couldn’t happen this year, Hickerson said. “We couldn’t do that this year,” she said. Despite this, everyone is hoping that as opportunities arise for them to come together, they’ll get to do things they haven’t done in a while, she said. 

The students progress quicker when they are in person, Hickerson said. “They can make those signs, they can have access to materials,” she said. To adapt to these challenges, HM Lead had to be flexible and creative, she said. However, COVID has also strengthened connections and encouraged everyone to check in with each other about how they’re feeling, Hickerson said. 

Looking forward, HM Lead’s goal is to continue their projects, Hickerson said. Towards the end of the year, they might do some debriefing and thinking about how we want to set up for success for next year, she said.  

Hickerson is extremely proud of the work HM Lead is doing. “I’m really motivated by their enthusiasm and it is always really wonderful to have students feel empowered,” she said.

The students have learned valuable lessons about themselves and the surrounding community. “Horace Mann is a very community based school, and we always talk about our community and everybody fitting in, and HM lead helps us embody those characteristics,” Shah said. 

“[HM Lead] really taught me how to not just advocate for myself, but advocate for the community around me. It’s a life skill,” Scola said.