We are all construction workers! More on that later.
If you drove by Elsa England Elementary last Saturday morning, you might’ve double-checked the calendar. It looked like a school day morning with a long car line snaking around the crowded parking lot. Saturday was a beautiful, sunny fall day and it’s hard to imagine any kid, or teacher for that matter would want to be back at school for a sixth morning in a row.
But I can tell you what was happening inside was beyond a typical school day. It was pure magic! Saturday was the sixth annual World Class Student Leadership Conference where more than 400 students and sponsors spent the morning learning how to be better leaders, bolstering each other’s spirits, and learning from one another. Bar none, this is one of my favorite events of the year! In Round Rock ISD, we believe in developing leaders early. That’s why each elementary school has a student council. And those student council members had the opportunity Saturday to learn from educators, community sponsors and middle and high school students on topics ranging from team building to visual notetaking to emotional intelligence. If you think this is heady stuff for elementary students, think again. Our kids are scary smart and, even better, they are community-minded and ready to use their talents to change the world for good!
One parent stopped me and pointed to the banner that read “World Class Student Leadership Conference” and thanked me for the event. “That means something to my son,” he said. “He really believes he is a leader and that he can change the world!” Of course, there is an army of teachers, administrators and volunteers to thank for pulling off this remarkable event and I want to thank each one of them.
As I spoke to the students, I couldn’t help but see the collective beauty as I looked out across the hundreds of faces. The diversity in Round Rock ISD is what makes us strong and the faces that looked back at me represented myriad race and ethnic backgrounds. As of this school year, 91 languages are spoken by Round Rock ISD students. What a gift of culture and experience! I delivered part of my remarks in Spanish and told the students:
“Una persona que habla dos idiomas, vale por dos!” (One person that speaks two languages is worth two!)
Afterward, a little boy came up to me and in Spanish told me I’d made him feel at home. Whether you speak a second language or not, I hope you’re doing everything you can to make every child feel at home and like they belong. I’ve told you before that I firmly believe I am where I am today because of teachers in elementary school who believed in me, who told me I could be a leader, who made me feel cared for and at home even when I didn’t speak a word of English.
In a world where sometimes the adults act like children, use words as weapons or, worse yet, turn from words to threats of violence when things don’t go their way, where purported leaders resort to cheap shots and playing politics instead of focusing their efforts on building a better community, it comforts me that I work at a place where the heart of hope resides. Others are not so fortunate. But, for me, watching our student leaders, our future world leaders, gives me more than hope, it gives me faith in the next generation and all that serve them.
Driving to Elsa England on Saturday morning, I was filled with excitement for what the day would bring. But driving away a few hours later, I was filled with optimism for what the future holds. Because our District builds leaders by believing in our children. Frederick Douglas was right when he said:
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Let’s build each other up and let’s be sure to put on our “construction” hats each school day. Tell a child you believe in them; they are a “work in progress”. The great thing? So are we!
The staff at Reagan Elementary built me up by believing in me. I hope I didn’t let them down.
Thanks for reading. I’ll write again soon.
Steve Flores, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools