How PCD Approaches Student Leadership
Student leadership is using one’s unique abilities and interests to create a positive difference to student life within a school community. This can include leading student organizations, pursuing interests and inspiring others to follow, or advocating for causes that benefit the community.
At Providence Country Day, our mission values engaged citizenship, an inclusive community, a diversity of strengths and talents, and—especially important—the development of leadership.
PCD believes every student has the potential to be a leader and encourages students to develop their leadership skills by pursuing personal interests and strengths.
Student Government Advisor Nancy Gelardi, Director of Upper School Student Life Kelly Hutchinson, and former Student Body Co-President Will Musto (Class of 2019) explain why student leadership is so important, offer insight into who can become a leader, and share advice on how students might pursue leadership roles.
Why Does Leadership Matter for Students?
Community Impact and Personal Growth
Leadership provides a chance to have a positive impact on one’s community and experience personal development.
In student government, says Gelardi, this often means:
- Running on ideas that are important to the PCD student body
- Throwing oneself into behind-the-scenes work
- Building community and community engagement by being a positive role model.
“You have to work behind the scenes but you also have to be visible,” says Gelardi. “You go to games, you go to plays, you go to musicals. The kids look up to student government members and it’s really important to show that you’re engaged. Promoting these kinds of activities builds community.”
Student government leaders also assume a long list of tasks that are integral to the smooth running of school year activities. This includes fall pep rallies and homecoming, annual food drives for the East Bay Coalition for the Homeless, Adopt-A-Family during the holiday season, spring fling dances and carnivals, Senior activities and games, class competitions, and even Field Day.
Student Body Co-Presidents also tackle the important community issues on which they based their campaigns. For Will Musto, who along with Henry Schaeffer was Student Body Co-President from 2018 to 2019, his number one campaign priority was working with faculty to offer advanced levels of art and music classes.
Musto, a guitar and piano player, says, “The need for more music classes was something we comprehended on a student level. We wanted to push ourselves, and we assumed if we wanted to do that, then it would be a great tool for other students as well.”
Creating a campaign around this desire for advanced classes “shed some light” on the issue, says Musto. “It pushed the idea ahead.”
In collaboration with Head of Upper School Jen Aitken and PCD’s Visual and Performing Arts Faculty, Musto and Schaeffer were able to implement more advanced studio art and band classes. Two years later, these classes continue to be offered at PCD.
For Musto, this accomplishment not only positively impacted the community, but also required a long process of personal growth and commitment. Inspired by watching Student Body Co-Presidents when they were younger, he and Schaeffer decided in the eighth grade that they, too, wanted to take on that role their senior year. Together, they began a four-year process of running for student council, listening to and participating in their community through various student organizations, and keeping a list of important student issues.
By the time they mounted their campaign at the end of their junior year, Musto says, they were accustomed to keeping tabs on what could be helpful to the school and committed to finding the best ideas on which to run. Planning ahead also motivated them to be more involved with the community and reflect upon what they could do as co-presidents that would make life better for students at PCD. This long-term plan also allowed them to develop important leadership experience before running for co-president.
Even those who don’t opt for a four-year plan like Musto and Schaeffer can experience great leadership development, says Gelardi. Students who feel tentative standing up in front of their peers, for example, may become great public speakers by the end of the year. “They become more and more comfortable as time goes by,” says Gelardi, “and you can really see their personal growth.”
Who Can Become A Leader?
The Coexistence of Outgoing and Quiet Leadership
Leadership can often invoke assumptions of outgoing personalities involved in student government, but Gelardi, Hutchinson, and Musto believe that there are actually many types of leaders.
In fact, a diversity of leadership styles is an important part of creating a cohesive community. “Quiet leadership is just as necessary in the community as more outgoing leadership,” says Hutchinson, who works both with Peer Advisors and the PCD Community Standards Group. “Both of these types of leadership need to coexist because they both contribute to that sense of community as a whole.”
“Some leaders are more outgoing, and kids are drawn to their enthusiasm,” she continues. “But kids who are much quieter also have an enormous impact within their classes and community.”
Hutchinson says that quiet leaders can provide a bridge for younger students by reaching out and making them feel included. Year-end conversations in her advisory groups have often revealed that these quiet leaders make the most impact on younger students.
Gelardi has also witnessed different types of leadership while advising the student government. “We’ve had all kinds of students run for student body co-president,” says Gelardi. “You don’t have to be the best student, you don’t have to be the most outgoing student.”
Musto agrees, saying, “I think there are so many different types of leadership. Often you think of sports teams or student government, but so many people have different passions and personalities.”
How to Become a Leader
Believe in Yourself, Follow Your Interests, and Be True to Who You Are
Hutchinson acknowledges that many students may never have thought of themselves as leaders and sometimes just need to be told that they have leadership potential.
Encouraging students to apply for, or even create, leadership roles that they may not have considered before is therefore an important part of the process.
Being a leader can be as simple as doing something you enjoy, says Hutchinson, and “creating a space for your interests, then bringing other kids into that space.” With this guidance, students have started a variety of clubs over the years, including the recent Dungeons & Dragons Club.
“There are all kinds of chances for kids to be leaders in whatever way fits their personality,” Hutchinson says. “If you have an interest and want to start something, go for it.”
Although his own path was through student government, Musto agrees with Hutchinson. “Leadership can be any initiative you want to start in your community,” he says. For example, other students in his class created new recycling and energy plans at PCD and assumed leadership roles in that way.
“Just go for it.” Musto says, echoing Hutchinson. “When in doubt, just go for it and don’t hold back.” This is the most important thing in the end, Musto explains. “Have a sense of confidence in who you are, trust in what you’re doing, and just be yourself. Ultimately, these are the people who make great leaders.”
Become a Leader at Providence Country Day School
PCD doesn’t just hope that our students become leaders, we empower them to grow with confidence and prepare them to meet the challenges of an ever-changing world. Our core values are built around leadership qualities.
If you live near Providence, Rhode Island, learn more about a PCD private education and watch how we change the game.