Follow the Leader

By Chrissa May, Grade 5 Teacher

Follow the leader is a simple childhood game, right? Well, not when you are a grade five student at York Country Day School and your leaders are people such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and William Penn.

Ask a student in grade five, newly christened ‘Leader of the Lower School,’ what it means to be a leader and enthusiastic responses bubble forth:

“It means you get to do important jobs like working in the Dog House and safety patrol.”

“It means you get to leave the classroom to collect bus slips and put up the flag…without the teacher!”

“Being the leaders of the Lower School means you’re the oldest, and you get to have a Pre-K Pal.”

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Ask the same question to the same students in June, at the end of their tenure, and you will hear very different answers. Last year a student summed up their leadership experience by saying,

“I thought being a leader was going to be so fun. It was, but it was also really hard. Like doing safety when it’s cold and rainy or having to work in the Dog House when your friends are sledding. That’s not fun. But it’s important because people depend on you. You have to be trustworthy. And when you do a good job it feels really good, even if you’d rather be doing something else.”

So what changes? Quite literally, the children change. By giving our students authentic responsibility in the form of jobs that affect the daily operation of their community, coupled with conversations about the accomplishments and lives of notable leaders, our children transform.

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And so this year’s class exuberantly begins their journey. They perform their duties with zest, focused on what leaders get to do rather than on who they have to be. But as the leaves change color and we head to Eisenhower Farm for their ‘Molding of a Leader’ program in October, so too will our grade five students…our Leaders of the Lower School.

“This world of ours… must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.” –Dwight D. Eisenhower