How students develop voice on their eighth-grade council

'Kids are not only resilient, they are honest and they know what’s best for them'
By: | July 8, 2020
Superintendent Lily Matos DeBlieux mentors middle schoolers as they develop their voice as member of the Superintendent’s 8th Grade Council in Arizona’s Pendergast Elementary School District.Superintendent Lily Matos DeBlieux mentors middle schoolers as they develop their voice as member of the Superintendent’s 8th Grade Council in Arizona’s Pendergast Elementary School District.

The members of the Superintendent’s 8th Grade Council in Arizona’s Pendergast Elementary School District get plenty of opportunities to express student voice” during a year of mentoring from school leaders.

These students also they get a behind the scenes look at how schools operate, as they have a role in planning annual budgets, attend conferences and organizing the district’s annual kick-off extravaganza, Superintendent Lily Matos DeBlieux says.

“I mentor them all year,” DeBlieux says. “They’re like my ambassadors in the school.”

The council’s members also provide DeBlieux with plenty of insight into how their classmates are feeling, including their concerns about reopening schools during the COVID-19 outbreak.


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“They know more than we do,” DeBlieux says. “They tell us the way they want to learn and why something’s effective. They tell us how they would like their parents to talk to them.”

The council members also spread awareness about the district’s hotline for students in crisis and are involved in their school’s Speak Up Stand Up Save a Life club, which addresses bullying, drug use, the LGBTQ community and other social-emotional issuers.

Ambitious eighth-graders

DeBlieux chooses two eighth-graders from each of her 12 schools to serve on the council. The students are initially nominated by teachers and must complete an interview process that includes members of the outgoing council.

Once on the council, the students and their parents must sign on contract committing participate in all activities.

The council then elects two of its members to serve on the district’s school board. These two students give reports to the board about various district matters.

Community service is a key component of the council. During the year, the students, along with DeBlieux, sew 1,000 pillows that will be given to kindergarteners being promoted to first-grade. The pillows have a flap that holds a book.


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Another one of DeBlieux’s priorities for the council is to get the students thinking about college. In past years, the students have visited Harvard and Stanford universities. This year’s trip to Shanghai was canceled, and the council had to conduct its last few meeting virtually after schools closed.

DeBlieux is most proud of the growth she sees in the students, about 80% of whom come from low socio-economic families. Students who are shy at the beginning of eighth-grade become confident leaders by the time they head off to high school.

“Kids are not only resilient, they are honest and they know what’s best for them,” she says. “But they need to know they are just as capable of being leaders in this world and going to elite universities. It just takes someone to believe in them.”