The littlest legislators Children: The student council at a Lochearn- area school is unique because its members are kindergartners.

January 02, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

When Emani Haffeez and fellow student council members convene for a meeting, they sit cross-legged in a circle on a blue and red carpet, surrounded by building blocks, teddy bears and dolls.

They begin each session by answering a few simple questions: "What day is it? What month is it? What is the date?" And though all council members know their names, several stumble over how to spell them.

The 5-year-olds on the Campfield Kindergarten Council, formed in the fall, are getting a firsthand lesson in democracy, handling issues such as choosing school colors and doling out charitable contributions.

"It's fun being the leaders," said Emani. "I like making decisions."

None of the pint-sized bureaucrats has heard of Robert's Rules of Order, but in some respects, council meetings of students at the Lochearn-area Campfield Early Childhood Learning and Development Center are more decorous than those of older students.

No one argues, everyone gets a fair say without interruption, and decisions are arrived at by consensus.

"It doesn't matter that the children are only 5 years old," said guidance counselor Flora Smith, who advises the group, likely the youngest student council in Baltimore County schools. "They are just as enthusiastic as any older children I've ever worked with, and they take their jobs just as seriously."

Like all legislative meetings,Campfield's can drag for some members. At a recent meeting, one student rolled up a pants leg and played with the scab on his knee. Another rolled on his side and rested his head in his hands.

At another meeting, one student had to be temporarily relieved of his jingling pocket change.

For the council, the biggest action was one that will affect students for years: picking school colors.

The students selected three combinations -- red and gold, blue and gold, and green and yellow -- and then decided to supervise a schoolwide vote.

The council agreed that teachers and instructional assistants should be allowed to vote, in addition to students.

"Teachers would care, too, just like the kids," explained Monet West.

But when the ballots were collected, the limitations of having 5-year-olds running a student council became apparent: None had learned to count into the hundreds.

Smith counted the ballots and -- with a little prompting -- the kindergartners figured out that the 181 votes for blue and gold were more than the 154 votes for red and gold, and the 152 votes for green and yellow.

"So how do we go out and tell people?" asked Elly Girbach, who was taking her turn as leader of the council.

"We can go to the classrooms," Monet answered.

"We could meet in the gym," Parker Wimberly suggested.

"Maybe we could call everyone on the walkie-talkies," Anthony Kees said, using kindergarten slang for the school intercom system.

In the end, council members decided they would visit classrooms and tell students and teachers directly.

Most schools have student councils, which typically are led by the eldest students -- fourth- and fifth-graders in elementaries, and juniors and seniors in high schools.

The council at Campfield, which has 380 students, also is led by the school's eldest students. But because it offers only preschool and kindergarten programs for children from six area elementaries, kindergartners are the school elders.

The council -- two representatives selected by teachers from each of the school's six kindergarten classes -- meets at 9: 30 a.m. Tuesdays in the office shared by Smith and the school's social worker.

Also on the council's agenda: deciding what group should be the focus of Campfield's winter charity campaign.

"I really want to leave it up to them to decide who they want to help and how they want to help," Smith said. "We're teaching them to be leaders and teaching them values and character."

This school year, council members spoke to the student body at a monthly "Campy Campfire" about the importance of responsibility, the school's value of the month for November.

"We told students not to forget to wear seat belts," recalled kindergartner Maksim Mendelzon.

While few kindergartners have political aspirations, getting to run a student council at age 5 has put such thoughts in the minds of almost all of the Campfield leaders. "I want to be president some day," Emani said. "This is fun."

Pub Date: 1/02/98

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