Leading the Way: Student Leadership
When considering examples of leadership in schools, one often thinks of student government. Whether Student Body President or class representative, these elected leaders are tasked with the responsibility of building school spirit and serving their community.
One candidate described the necessary qualities of a student leader. “These qualities include responsibility, honesty, dedication, hard work, and social skills. [This person must be] a good role model to the school and dedicated to their position.”
New Horizon’s Student Council demonstrates many of these qualities as they take the lead in organizing a variety of school activities such as Eid Fun Day, Who’s Who Day, Friendly Fest, and the Middle School Talent Show. They also serve as school ambassadors for events like Grandparents’ Day and Spring Open House.
Though they primarily serve the school community, these developing leaders also get involved in efforts to improve their local community. Over the years, they have worked with the Pasadena Beautiful Foundation to plant trees, the Friends of the L.A. River’s “Great L.A. River Clean-up” to clean portions of the L.A. river, and Union Station Foundation who was the recipient of the food collected for the students’ middle school canned food sculpture contest.
Leadership at New Horizon, however, takes on different forms as the late Harold Geneen of ITT Corporation once stated, “Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and actions.” Opportunities abound for students to be role models and take positive action in their school.
In the spiritual realm, eighth graders receive specialized khateeb training to prepare them to write and deliver meaningful khutbas (sermons) to the student body for the Friday congregational prayers. In the second half of the school year, these students almost exclusively deliver the Friday sermons. On other days, students from first through eighth take turns calling the adhan and iqama and leading the prayer.
On Read Across America Day, commemorated by schools across the country, the upper elementary students spend a morning reading books to the preschool, pre-Kindergarten, and Kindergarten students. This type of pairing has also occurred between middle school fifth graders and lower school second graders with the reading of original Ramadan storybooks (written by fifth graders). During Arabic Day, older students perform skits for younger students and conduct Q & A afterwards to check for understanding. This type of peer mentoring through inter-grade activities is a very successful learning tool for both the student teachers and the younger students.
Middle School Leadership
Every aspect of the Hajj Simulation each year is led by sixth through eighth graders. From Hajj guides to airline personnel to the khateeb on Arafat, these students create a real-world simulation for students in grades one through five that deepens their learning experiences.
The annual Eid Fun Day, organized by the Student Council, could not, however, become a reality without the volunteerism and leadership shown by middle school students who essentially manage the carnival games and activities.
Each year, seventh and eighth graders participate in an interfaith activity with students from Sinai Akiba Academy, a Jewish day school. When Sinai Akiba students visit NHS, the day is all about leadership as our students share a presentation on prayer, escort their buddies on a tour of the campus, and make their guests feel welcome.
Middle schoolers can sign up each year to serve as peer mentors in our after-school study hall. These students are usually assigned to younger students, whether elementary or middle school, and they offer a supportive service in helping students work on homework or study for tests or just look up to them as role models.
Finally, as the school’s mission states, “New Horizon seeks to develop in each student a positive identity as an American Muslim.” One measure of a student’s confidence in their identity as a Muslim is the desire and ability to inform others about his or her faith when an opportunity arises. With the anticipated entry each year of the graduating class into high school, Ms. Aysha Mehdi, the Islamic Studies teacher, prepares students to create and deliver a presentation on the basics of Islam – “Islam 101.” It is not enough, however, to simply design a powerpoint; the student must be able to respond to challenging questions posed by the teacher as a way to simulate the types of inquiry they will see when they go to high school. Passing this test, in a sense, is the sign of a student’s ability to stand up for what he/she believes in and lead others to a better understanding of Islam. In the world we live in today, being prepared for difficult questions must now be a critical part of our children’s rite of passage.
Overall, NHS provides numerous opportunities to lead which helps prepare our students for real life and remind them that everyone in some way can be a leader.