At-risk students get chance to lead Gateway School elects class officers for the first time

November 03, 1998|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

When the president of Carroll County Student Government Association invited the Gateway School to elect officers for the first time, teacher Gary Nelson wasn't sure it was a good idea.

"To be frank, I had some misgivings," said Nelson, who teaches social studies at Gateway, the county's alternative school that serves middle and high school students who are unable to function at their assigned schools.

Stephanie McFeeley, CCSGA president, proposed a leadership training day at Gateway to explain the organization.

"It would be taking a significant risk," Nelson said. "We have an at-risk student population, and she was asking to mix them in with the cream of the crop of the county."

Nelson needn't have worried.

Gateway students learned about parliamentary procedure, teamwork and the responsibilities of leadership at McFeeley's one-day seminar. By the time it was over, the group had selected two representatives from each of the school's seven homerooms and elected four officers to participate in CCSGA activities.

"They were very interested, very involved and very excited," McFeeley said.

Nelson, who serves as the adviser to Gateway's student government association, said the school's newly elected officers made an impressive debut at the countywide meeting of SGA representatives last month.

"Our group went and mixed just beautifully with all the other students," Nelson said.

Like other student leaders, Gateway's president addressed the hundreds of students at the meeting.

"I had to get up in front of everybody and talk. I was terrified," said LeeLee Schneider, Gateway's student government president. "I told them about Gateway and how we were trying to get different activities going on."

The purpose of the Gateway School is to give students a place where they can succeed academically and socially and then return to their home schools.

Students attend Gateway for a variety of reasons, including severe behavioral and emotional problems, drug-related problems and juvenile offenses.

Although Gateway had a student advisory committee last year, the school was not affiliated with the countywide student government organization.

"We weren't invited to participate before Stephanie [McFeeley]," Nelson said. "It was something that was never thought of."

Starting an SGA chapter at Gateway was complicated because its population of about 100 is always changing as students return to their home schools.

The school will have to choose seven new SGA representatives this month, because those students will leave Gateway when the second semester begins next week.

Despite such difficulties, Gateway's student leaders haven't wasted time getting down to business.

In little more than a month, the group has proposed several ideas to improve student life. They include starting a school newspaper, publishing a yearbook, having school dances and developing new ideas for field trips.

Schneider said she got involved with Gateway's first SGA to "try to help the school."

"We really don't have that much stuff going on like at other schools, and we feel like Gateway should have them, too," said Schneider, 17, who came to Gateway from Liberty High School.

"I wasn't getting along with everybody there," she said. "I came here to straighten out."

Said Jennifer Collett, 16, Gateway's SGA secretary, who came from Westminster's East Middle School: "I think there are changes that need to be made in the school, and the student council is a good way to make changes."

"A lot of kids here have never had the opportunity to be in these positions in their home schools," said Nelson. The Student Government Association "builds their self-esteem, teaches them responsibility and gives them some organizational skills," he said.

Pub Date: 11/03/98

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