A group of 18 students filled the Horizon Middle School teacher’s lounge one Monday morning for their bi-monthly Principal’s Advisory meeting. They were a little groggy, but still invested in the discussion led by Principal Christine McDaniel about helping their peers feel more welcome in school.
“I feel like the work that you’re putting in is making a big difference,” McDaniel told the students. “That’s what we hope – By the middle of the year, we can say we’re not seeing so many kids that feel like they don’t belong, like they don’t have anyone to sit with at lunch.”
McDaniel then noted that during a student survey last spring, Horizon students’ lowest scoring trait was self-efficacy. The students then brainstormed why that may be the case, and how they can help their peers believe in themselves.
“Sometimes, I feel like people may need to talk to themselves and take time to think about who they actually are,” said seventh grader Isaiah Hughes.
“Or talk to another kid,” added McDaniel.
McDaniel launched the Principal’s Advisory group in the fall of 2022, with the goal of giving students another opportunity to share their perspective. She got the idea from educational consultant Dr. Tammy Campbell.
"These kids are the voice of what’s going on in the school,” McDaniel said. “What is happening that we, as adults, might not be aware of?”
Eighth grader Emmy Varga, a member of the Principal’s Advisory, agreed.
“We help students know that their ideas are being heard and are being put out there,” she said. “We help students’ voice matter.”
Unlike student leadership, Principal’s Advisory isn’t a full class that meets multiple times a week, but rather twice a month during their 30-minute advisory period at the start of the school day. Unlike elected ASB positions, students volunteer to join Principal’s Advisory.
The group focuses on social issues, rather than planning events and spirit weeks. Their input has directly lead to adult decisions at Horizon. For example, last year, Principal’s Advisory told McDaniel that there was an issue with harmful language at the school, so the school’s administrative team began a year-long campaign informing students about the harm of derogatory words.
“Middle school aged kids oftentimes don’t think about the impact of their words on others – their brains aren’t fully developed,” McDaniel said. “But we have to keep reminding them and reminding them, because we don’t want Horizon kids to walk away and say, ‘That was the worst time of my life.’”
Principals’ Advisory also created the SWARM motto for Horizon, which launched this school year. The acronym stands for Safe, Welcoming, Accountable, Respectful, and Modeling Kindness, and there are monthly assemblies honoring Horizon students that best display those traits.
“They decided what was important for them to model as students, and they came up with the acronym as well,” McDaniel said. “You can look at SWARM as coming together and moving together, and they really liked that.”
Isaiah, the seventh grader, said he joined Principal’s Advisory because he wanted to support his fellow students.
“I thought it would be good for me to be able to help people, whenever they felt alone,” he said. “People need to know that there are people out there who are there for you.”
Eighth grader Mason Butenschoen, also in Principal’s Advisory, felt similarly.
“I think we can make a big impact on those people who feel like they don’t belong,” he said. “We can help them realize they do matter as much as any other person.”
Sixth grader Colbie Locker said she participated in a similar group, Culture and Climate, at Custer Elementary School, so she was excited to join Principal’s Advisory.
“I really like helping out,” she said. “It’s just a way for me to get involved in my community.”
McDaniel said she’s proud of her Principal’s Advisory group.
“They take this very seriously, and they believe they can have a positive impact,” she said. “I know they’re going to carry this attitude to the high school with them.”