MARSHALL It is never too early to learn how to be a leader. That's what Robert Walker and Heidi Critchley believed when they started Tiger PAWS (Positive Action With Students) a year ago.
Tiger PAWS the youngest version of the Marshall Public Schools student council is for students in kindergarten-fourth grade.
"It's a student leadership program," said Walker, assistant elementary principal. "They come with problems and help find solutions. That's why we are so proud of them."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Fourth-grade representative Ashtyn Eben, left, waits patiently with elementary principal Heidi Critchley on Dec. 6, for Eben’s turn to make a presentation to the Marshall Public School Board about Tiger PAWS, a K-fourth-grade student council in its second year of existence.
A few years ago, Walker and elementary principal Critchley began discussing the idea of implementing a joint council for students at West Side and Park Side. Last year, the program took off.
"We said 'what about our kids?" Walker said. "Why can't we have them be on student council at a younger age? Maybe it will spark an interest when they go to the middle school or the high school. It teaches leadership qualities."
Every elementary student has a chance to take part in Tiger PAWS, on a volunteer basis.
"We wanted to set it up as a volunteer system," Walker said. "So teachers get some basic information to the students in their classrooms. The students at that time, either raise their hand or they don't. Throughout the year, we'll have 105 students serve at the primary level on the Tiger PAWS team."
Fourth-grader Ashtyn Eben has been an active representative for the organization. On Dec. 6, Eben spoke to the MPS board members about the program.
"There are 12 other West Side students in Tiger PAWS and Park Side has 22 members," Eben said. "We talk to our classmates and bring our questions and ideas to our meetings. We also try to come up with solutions. We meet twice a month for two months to talk about how we can make West Side the best school ever."
Eben pointed out some of the community projects the team was working on, including decorating Christmas bags for Heart-to-Heart and helping at the food shelf.
"We want to have experiences to learn how to give back to our community," Eben said. "Thank you for having me here at your meeting."
Four middle school students also spoke at the board meeting. Afterwards, MPS Superintendent Klint Willert thanked the students, advisers and parents.
"I think it's another great way to share how we've really extended a hand to our students to engage them at an early age," Willert said. "The students will have some exposure to leadership opportunities and learn a little bit at a formative stage what leadership is and how to be an appropriate spokesperson for a classroom."
Critchley and Walker were more than happy to accommodate the group when they asked to share the Christmas spirit of giving with Boulder Estates residents recently. Thirty-three members sang holiday favorites while Walker handed out candy canes to the audience.
"These kids come with questions they might have and amazingly, they come with solutions to the problems they bring, even at this age," Walker said. "That is incredible. They also talk about great things that are happening at their school, too."
Critchley introduced Eben and Sydney Mauch to the residents.
"I'm very proud of these two," Critchley said. "They're great leaders."
Critchley asked the fourth-grade representatives to tell about being part of the student council.
"Something I like about Tiger PAWS is that we get to talk about ways to fix things at our school with other students," Eben said.
"I like that we talk about problems we might have at school, like bullying," Mauch said. "We talked about ways to help if there was any bullying."
Critchley said that Tiger PAWS members also plan a celebration week at the conclusion of state testing and other events like extra recess time or a party in the gym.
"They get to plan dress-up days," Critchley said. "One day it might be 'Tiger' day. Another day might be 'dress like your teachers.'" In the past, students have dressed up like Walker and Critchley.
"It's really cute when they dress up as Mr. Walker because the kids make a little beard on their faces," Critchley said.
It takes a lot of dedication to be part of the Tiger PAWS team, with meetings twice a month before school time, but Walker is impressed with the students.
"They come up with some fantastic ideas, which may range from 'gosh, we'd like to have more pizza at lunch' to 'how we'd like to be involved in the community.' We have a huge gamut of ideas that kids bring up. It's been very rewarding to sit in on that."