Portrait of a Graduate in Action: Park Avenue Student Council Makes Community Spirits Bright


Portrait of a Graduate in Action: Park Avenue Student Council Makes Community Spirits Bright

December 1, 2023

Portrait of a Graduate in Action is a regular feature that provides greater meaning and examples to the Warwick Valley Central School District’s Portrait of a Graduate, a representation of the district’s priority goals for teaching and learning to create graduates who are collaborators, communicators, creators and innovators, ethical and global citizens, resilient individuals, problem-solvers, and life-long learners.

The Park Avenue Elementary School Student Council is a civic-minded and impressively engaged group of young people who are learning how community is built and strengthened. The ambitious school projects include multiple fundraising campaigns that send ripples of positivity and support beyond school walls and into the Warwick community.

A call to civic engagement and the role of student governance are important components of the overall educational experience at Warwick Valley Central School District. Our district’s Portrait of a Graduate touches on these very things in its articulation of the community’s aspirational vision for the skills, attributes and dispositions every Warwick Valley graduate should possess when they head off to college or career. The Park Avenue Student Council is a perfect example of how the seeds of our district’s Portrait of a Graduate are planted early. 

Park Avenue Student Council is made up of fourth grade students who must apply (by personal essay) to be part of the group. By simply taking part in the application process, students make important self-examinations about their motivations and goals for being part of a community-minded group, and the civics lessons begin right away, as the applicants learn about the election process.

“We encourage them to really consider important questions, like ‘why do I want to be a part of this,’ and ‘what do I hope to get from my involvement,” said council advisor Amy Buliung. “We also want them to really think about what it is they can bring to the council. This year, we selected 13 students from 25 applicants. It can be tough, but it’s also a lesson in resilience.”

The civics lesson continues as selected council members can then run for a handful of council leadership positions. They learn how political campaigns and subsequent elections work, as they stump for their preferred offices – president, vice president and media coordinator.

“Each of them got to stand up and give a campaign speech about what they would like to do in their respective roles,” said Student Council advisor and kindergarten teacher Theresa Canfield, who explained that council members learn the valuable lesson that governing bodies require everybody to do their respective jobs and work together as a team to be effective.

“Without the secretary keeping notes, or the treasurer helping track the money we raise, without each job, the group wouldn’t work,” said Ms. Canfield. “This group teaches them to work as a team, and every day there’s something new to be learned about the importance of collaboration and communication.”

Ms. Buliung said that one of the most exciting parts of working with this group is their energy.

“Their excitement and their enthusiastic approach to any project we put in front of them is just amazing,” she said. “As fourth graders – the oldest ones in the building – the younger students really look up to them, and they are great at leading by example.”

Currently, the Student Council is closing out a busy fall and winter by taking the lead in Park Avenue’s part in the district-wide Toys For Military Tots toy drive. Of course, this comes on the heels of a busy fall and winter for the Student Council, whose annual events include Wreaths for Heroes in the fall, as well as the Park Avenue Salute to Veterans Ceremony.

You can read more about the Council’s efforts in support of Veterans in this story and this one.

“The kids were really successful with the Wreaths Across America campaign again this year,” said Ms. Buliung. “With all the collaboration that went into that, they really knocked it out of the park.”

Coming at this new challenge with their hallmark ambition, the Student Council’s gift drive goal for Park Avenue is 300 toys. They were already over a third of the way there last week.

Council member Maddie McDermott was glad to be invited to participate, and said, “This is for kids whose parents are in the military, and they don’t have as much as maybe other kids do. Their parents do a lot for us, so we want them to be able to have the things that other families like to have at the holidays.”

Student Council president Sabina Fasano agreed that making other people feel happy is what makes her and her fellow council members feel happy. She shared that as great as it feels to give themselves, they know that enlisting the help of their fellow students and neighbors is the way to maximize their efforts.

“We try to bring in the community, because when a community comes together like that, we can get even more toys for them than we could have on our own,” she said.

Ms. Buliung said that the Council was very excited to be asked by Superintendent Dr. David Leach to get involved with this year’s Toys For Military Tots drive.

“Each school was asked to not only collect toys for the drive, but to brainstorm unique ideas for how each school could get the word out to the community and increase donations. This group was all about it!”

One of the main ways they are getting the word out is by putting local broadcast media to work for them. With spirited collaboration and communication, the Council members came up with a commercial that is currently airing on WTBQ.

“We all put our heads together and wrote up this script and sent it to the radio station,” said Student Council communications director James Chavez Carey. “They revised it a little bit, we practiced a couple of times, and then we recorded it. Now, it’s on the radio for everyone to hear.”

Their marketing campaign to solicit toy donations has also included hand drawn signage that is posted around the building, live reminders during the morning announcements, and room-to-room visits by Council members to make in-person appeals for support. And, they made those visits during their recess periods, no less!

“Everything we do in Student Council involves group work, collaboration and the sharing of ideas, all of which is also at the heart of science,” said council advisor and science teacher Gabe Perez, pointing out one of the many curricular connections that comes with serving on Student Council. “Bouncing ideas off of each other, and building up each other’s ideas. If one student doesn’t understand something, another one will help them out. And we’re always going back to critical thinking and using facts to back up our ideas and opinions.”

Ms. Canfield pointed out that one of the qualities of Portrait of a Graduate that is so important when it comes to Student Council and the development of young leaders, is being a Problem Solver.

“When they see something that’s not right, something wrong, we want them to try and figure out how to fix it; how to improve it in a way that will help the community,” Ms. Canfield said. “We want students to see that even though they’re in fourth grade, they can be a vital part of the community. Their words count; their actions count.”

From remembering US military veterans who have passed, to honoring those still with us, to sharing holiday spirit with families serving us today, the Park Avenue Student Council’s school projects send ripples far beyond the school’s halls and walls. They affect real people, of all ages, right here in our community. 

“That’s really something for the kids to hold on to,” said Mr. Perez, “the fact that they are making a real difference, right now, in the lives of so many people, including kids their own age.”

Portrait of a Graduate places an emphasis on relationships, experiential learning, student choice, group collaboration and the development of enduring academic, interpersonal and critical thinking skills. For Ms. Canfield, seeing students’ personal growth, and how they begin to show the earliest signs of becoming collaborators, communicators, ethical and global citizens, and problem solvers has been a rewarding aspect of working with the Student Council.

“As a teacher and parent,” Ms. Canfield said with pride, ”you want to know that your kids are part of a group like this one, that’s on a path to do good, with like-minded peers who are out there to help others. They’re never ‘me’ focused, and they consistently bring out the best in each other.”

With eight years left until graduation, the members of the Park Avenue Student Council have plenty of time left to continue evolving into their best version of the Portrait of a Graduate. But, it is clear already that the seeds have been sown and are being watered amply by the students’ interest and engagement in their world.

“We’re so proud of this group for their excitement and their creative ideas,” added Ms. Buliung. “It’s incredible to see them accomplish the things that they do, and to watch them becoming these amazing, outgoing team players.”

Park Avenue Student Council members gathered in a classroom with gifts for the holidays


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