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Middle school presidents take the lead

This election year, American voters will turn their attention to selecting who will run their country for the next four years _ a Republican? a Democrat? an Independent?

It might be worth checking out what the students at Powell Middle School recently decided. Rather than have their school's student government headed by just one president, they decided to give the job to three people.

O'Shay Hawkins, 12, Barrett Sheffield, 13 and Joscelyn Stephens, 14, three smart, enthusiastic kids, are the new presidents of Powell's microsociety. Each, according to the newly rewritten school constitution, share equal say-so in how their student government will be handled.

In other words, the buck stops here, here and here.

It all began last fall with ratification of the "Preamble."

Drawn up by a representative committee of students from all grade levels, it guaranteed that every student was entitled to equitable representation. Under the old constitution drawn up four years earlier, the final word on any student government matter always fell to a single elected president. Trouble was that person was usually an eighth-grader. All too often seventh-graders and sixth-graders had to fall in step behind their older peers. When it was time to decide matters such as school dances or extended campus privileges their voices were simply ignored.

"Well, it's not that way anymore," offered Barrett, a seventh-grader. "Now, everyone gets to be heard, and it's going to be better for everyone."

Of course, the troika has only been in office about a month. They admit they are still sorting out things. But they do have a laundry list of issues their constituents are interested in.

The microsociety, which convenes for about 90 minutes at the end of every other school day, is a miniature socioeconomic community in which students do various jobs, buy and sell goods, pay taxes and work toward the common good. That means they also write laws and enforce them.

One of the most important matters at hand is the adoption of a new set of laws, many of which have yet to be written. Over the next few weeks, the presidents will meet with the rest of the legislative branch, which includes three vice presidents, secretaries, and a host of representatives from each grade level to formulate the new laws.

"It's a lot of work," offered Joscelyn. "A lot of kids want stuff. We just have to decide what we can do to make it all work."

However, when asked what they would do if the three of them were to disagree on an issue, the three presidents weren't quite sure how to respond.

"I guess we'd have to vote and see who got the majority," said Barrett. "But I don't think that's ever going to happen."

O'Shay believes the new system will be a huge benefit for sixth-graders, who traditionally have had little power in the school government.

"It's usually the big kids who decide everything, and the sixth-graders just follow along," said O'Shay. "But a lot of sixth-graders I've talked to say that they get tickets (from the microsociety police force) for walking on the grass and seventh and eighth-graders don't. That's not fair."

The presidential team does agree on a lot of things. They plan to initiate a "Pennies For Panthers" fund to attract contributions for a new school statue out front. And, they want to have a Valentine's Day school dance.

"We have some real good ideas," said Joscelyn. "I think having three presidents is pretty cool."

Who knows? If such a thing works out at Powell Middle School, perhaps a new addition or two at the White House isn't such a far-fetched idea.