Jamie Pascua, coach and student council adviser at Sandy Valley School in Sandy Valley, NV, was named the 2019 Warren E. Shull National Middle Level Adviser of the Year. Pascua has advised the student council for 17 years. During that time, she has helped her young leaders grow by fostering their efforts to plan and implement a wide variety of events and charitable projects that support the school and community. As a preK–12 school, Sandy Valley maintains separate middle level and high school student councils. Eight years ago, Pascua accepted the challenge to be adviser for both groups.
Advise: Tell me about your student council.
Pascua: We have about 98 kids in the school itself. When I first started 19 years ago, I took seven kids to [the first conference I had], and it’s built [since] then to where I end up taking 25 kids. I’m also the high school adviser, so we do a lot of things together, and it helps me keep the program going because I have the kids in middle school—and then when I have them in high school, they already know the program. The other unique thing about Sandy Valley is [it’s a preK–12 school]. So, like last week, the older kids went out at lunchtime and did activities for the elementary kids.
Advise: What kind of projects have been most successful for your middle level council?
Pascua: I think the best one for them that they did for the community and the school was their Harvest Carnival and haunted house. They do everything—they run the games, they take care of the tickets. They’ll always do Pie in the Face. They have a tic-tac-toe, a fish game, face painting, the cakewalk. And then the kids need to put a schedule together so that they know, “OK, I’m going to work this booth for two hours, and then I’m going to switch and then we’ll take a break.” They plan the whole thing out themselves [for the entire community]. And if they have a question, they can come to me and I’ll take care of it.
Advise: How would you prepare your middle school students to be student leaders?
Pascua: Well, I really try to put it on them. They know my expectations when it comes to if we go to conferences and if we have to do community service. My biggest thing is to be able to instill in them that, eventually, when they get out of school, they have to become successful human beings, whether it’s in the workforce, in the military, or college, or wherever they go, so I try to really instill those values in them that someone’s always looking up to them. They want to make sure that they’re doing what they need to be doing.
Advise: When do you do elections for your middle level officers or your middle level council?
Pascua: We start [in the] middle of August. The funny thing here with Sandy Valley is these kids never want to run against each other. It’s an application basis; they have to put their application in, and they decide what they’re going to be, and then I don’t ever have anybody run, so I have a meeting and I’m like, “OK, you guys need to figure out what you guys want to do. How do you want your officers?” One person will want to be president, but then, “I don’t want to run against my friend, so I’ll be vice president.” I haven’t had an election.
Advise: What would you say might be some of the tough issues facing your middle school student leaders these days?
Pascua: I think one of the biggest ones right now, well—we’re small—and so it’s really hard for them, because they’re like brothers and sisters. So, they have issues with each other. I end up with kids in my room and I’m like, “You guys are going to be friends again next week.” “Nope, I hate her.” “No, you don’t.” So, we talk about that. We do have some financial issues with some because it’s Sandy Valley, it’s a transient area. Working on having them get along as a family is probably the toughest thing, because I’ve been doing this for so long and, I mean, these girls, they hate each other one minute and they love each other the next, and we just keep moving.
Advise: What advice would you give to advisers in small schools?
Pascua: I would say don’t give up. You’ve got to turn that actual counseling part of your brain on. Even though I’m not a counselor, I do a lot of counseling. It’s just one of those things where you get down with them and say, “Hey, you know what, you guys? This is the way it is. We’re small, you’re going to see each other every day. We gotta work through this. You got other kids looking up to you. They don’t want to see you yelling; you don’t want them to see you yelling and screaming at each other on the playground and hear about it later.” We have a lot of siblings—real siblings. So, there’s that as well. You’ve got to keep going, because eventually they’ve got to get out into the world and realize they gotta get along with people they work with.
Advise: Exactly. Since you’ve got a unique situation, talk a little bit about when your middle level council collaborates with the high school council.
Pascua: In the last few years, we’ve decided to get them together for a retreat. We have a four-day school week, so we have Fridays off. We show up on a Friday, and we spend half the day doing team-building activities. The younger kids really get a kick out of it because they get to see the high school kids in that leadership position, to where they think, “Hey, I could do this when I get that age or when I’m up there. Maybe I’ll be president, or maybe I’ll run for state board.” So, it’s pretty cool how they can work together.
Advise: When you’re feeling burned out, how do you recharge your batteries?
Pascua: It’s funny, because I just said this the other day: You get tired. I was in an accident about a year ago. Really, my attitude this year has been tough because I have to have surgery and there’s some stuff going on, but every morning I go to school and I go to breakfast with the 4-year-olds. When they see you—I’m standing on the playground—and it’s like, “Hi Miss Jamie!” and then the whole line of them: “Hi Miss Jamie! Hi Miss Jamie!” So, to go spend that 20 minutes with those 4-year-olds—[that’s] why I do what I do. Nothing can make it bad because of these little smiling 4-year-olds. I do a camp in the summer, which also helps a lot, because it’s all student council kids from Washington, Nevada, sometimes Utah and California. And so that helps, too, because I have a group of 14 kids that I don’t know. That always recharges me as well.
Advise: What are the perks and challenges of working with the student leaders at a young age and then again at the high school age?
Pascua: I think the perks are you get to watch them grow and learn. By the time they are in high school, they’ve either decided, “OK, student council’s not for me” or “Man—student council! That’s all about me!” So, it’s really cool to watch the uniqueness between the different personalities from when they’re really gung-ho in sixth grade, and then by the time they’re freshmen, it’s like “You know, it’s just not for me.” They’re still leading, because they’ve taken those skills and they’re using them somewhere else. I think the challenge is being [a small school], because it’s hard to get a lot of people to get involved.
Advise: Talk a little bit more about your petition process. So, you make an announcement: “Anybody who’s interested in being on council—” Tell me about their application.
Pascua: We make the announcement and then I hand out the application, and it has the grades—they have to get their grades from their counselor. They have to get a recommendation letter from a teacher, and then they have to write an essay of what the meaning of leadership is to them. Because we’re so small and we’re a Title I school, you can be on student council with a 2.0 [GPA]—but to be on the executive board, it has to be a 3.0. I don’t want to exclude anybody, so I try really hard to bring those kids up who have the lower grades so they can experience it as well. Our mid-level conference happened on a weekend that half my kids couldn’t go, and I had already paid for 10 kids. So, I took three sixth-grade boys who weren’t in student council. And they were amazed. They will probably be in student council next year.
Advise: How often would you say your middle school kids interact with your elementary school? Is it weekly?
Pascua: Yeah, all the time. At least once a month, but they’re doing something with them all the time. We’re all on the same campus. So, sixth through 12th, they’re on the same schedule, our kindergartners are walking to class. They interact with them all the time.
Advise: What’s the best advice you would give to a new middle level student council adviser?
Pascua: Don’t give up. At first, it’s going to be tough. I know that we have a lot of stuff in Nevada that is offered to these people, and don’t be afraid to ask anything. We’ve done this for so long, you know, and if you have a question, call your other advisers that are in your school district, call your executive director.
Advise: What advice would you give to an experienced adviser?
Pascua: The thing is, we all go through burnout. Again, don’t give up. If it’s something that you are really passionate about, you gotta stick with it, and hopefully your legacies will live on after you decide to retire. But remember—those kids are looking up to you, and they’re always going to think of you as someone who made a difference in their life. If you run to where you’re going to burn out, just look back at those kids and say, “I’ve done something. Apparently, I did something right.”