College Preparatory School for Girls Grades 3-12

Middle School Holton Highlights

Holton Highlights for Middle School March 2023

Dear Middle School Families,

Developing leadership in each and every student fuels my passion as an educator and therefore, I believe that everyone has the ability to be a leader. Leadership can mean getting elected to student council, being a captain on a sports team, or getting the lead in a play. Leadership can also mean making the right decisions when no one is looking, supporting a friend during a moment of need, asking for help when faced with a challenge, and knowing when to say no to something.

I recently had a conversation with a student who was talking about how she wanted to be a part of the student council next year. When I encouraged her to run for a position, she said “oh, I’m not a leader, I couldn’t do that.” My immediate response to her was that of course she is a leader! I asked her if she ever takes the lead on group projects, or if she has ever helped a friend when they were having a tough time, or if she works hard in her classes. She said yes to all of those situations, to which I responded, “well, then I guess you are a leader because those are all leadership behaviors!”

Students should be given a broad definition of leadership. Most adults know that leadership comes in all shapes and sizes, but our students often have a quite narrow definition of leadership that leaves them on the outside looking in. When students can see themselves as a leader, they can practice leadership and gain confidence in themselves. 

The middle school years present a unique opportunity for learning leadership skills. Middle schoolers are in the throws of identity formation - trying on different versions of themselves to see which will fit. They want to push boundaries and gain confidence in who they are. They are goofy and serious, meticulous and spontaneous, full of laughter and full of sorrow sometimes all in one day! This rollercoaster can be dizzying for them and for the adults in their lives, however, these moments allow for structured risk-taking and confidence-building because things change so quickly for them.

As a part of a research project I am working on, I have interviewed female leaders to learn about their journeys. Many common themes have risen to the top, but two messages ring loud and clear - to be a leader, you need to practice leadership and you need to take risks. It is our job as educators to create a learning environment that fosters risk-taking and practicing leadership so that students can learn who they are as leaders at a young age.

I attended a conference on developing student leadership in Colorado in 2016 and the definition of leadership they gave us has stuck with me: leadership is the combination of courage and empathy. I believe we intentionally develop those traits at Holton through our Learn Well, Live Well, Lead Well Philosophy, which is one of the reasons I deeply love working in this community. In middle school, we can leverage the developmental moment our students are experiencing to help them define who they want to be as leaders to make a positive impact on their world around them.

At a recent assembly, we watched a video about representation of women in statues throughout cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. As you can imagine, the number of statues in honor of women pales in comparison to the number of statues of men. I asked the students to think of who they would want to build a statue for and the answers poured out of them. Proposals for statues of Michelle Obama, Kamala Harris, Beyonce, Katherine Johnson, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and others were met with cheers of agreement. Finally, one student suggested a statue of a woman in a suit holding a baby to represent working mothers, which was incredibly powerful coming from a middle schooler.

To close the assembly, two 8th graders performed a slam poem about the strength of women that brought students and teachers to their feet with applause. I ended the assembly by thanking the students for their thoughtfulness, and by telling them that I hope when I give this presentation again in 20 years, we can list their names as women who have statues built to honor their work. 

I am incredibly proud to be a member of the Holton community and I look forward to more opportunities for our students to showcase and build their leadership capacity.

With gratitude,

Lea Hunerkoch