Student voice taking lead at neighborhood middle school

West Broadway Middle School students are inducted into the school’s first-ever National Junior Honor Society, the only National Honor Society chapter in the Providence Public School District

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When Leanne Saravo arrived at West Broadway Middle School 11 months ago, this Principal and veteran educator took it all in, then got right to work. Building relationships with faculty and staff members was a top priority, but so was engaging her students to be an active part of their education. Student leadership, Saravo thought, would be key. What she didn’t know was that the entire school community would be integral to making it happen.

Working closely with faculty and staff, Saravo and Assistant Principals Richard Parillo and Amanda Gianfrancesco-Morales brought two aspirational programs to West Broadway to elevate student voice, engagement, and ownership: the National Junior Honor Society (NJHS), and National Student Council (NSC). Both of these nationally recognized organizations provide a framework for students to build citizenship and life skills that are critical for success in high school, college and career.

For Saravo, these programs bring “excitement and acknowledgement” as well as opportunities to her students. NJHS, she explains, “sets the bar at the same height” of excellence for students across all zip codes and districts nationally, whether they be urban, suburban or rural. Students in NJHS and NSC become part of a national leadership-building network that includes out-of-state conferences and experiences in which these students engage alongside peers across the country.

Cassandra Johns, English Language Arts teacher and the school’s NJHS Chapter Advisor, and five other faculty members (Valerie Melone, Melissa Gendreau, Andrew McMay, Michele Pistocco and Bethann Langlois) who serve as co-advisors, worked tirelessly throughout the year to create not only the school’s first chapter of the National Junior Honor Society, but the first and only NJHS chapter in a Providence Public middle school.

West Broadway Middle School’s Chapter of the National Junior Honor Society became official two weeks ago when it inducted its first class of members. Students qualify based on criteria that include maintaining a high grade point average and demonstrating excellence in the areas of scholarship, service, leadership, and character. Of the twenty-seven students that qualified for NJHS, ten students committed to take part, completing an application and essay.

NJHS inductees will take on a leadership role at the school in September, and will take part in a year-long service project that they create and lead, among other initiatives.

While a dedicated team worked to develop the school’s Honor Society, School Culture Coordinator Erroll Lomba worked with eighth graders to establish the school’s first National Student Council chapter. During what became a months-long “service project,” these rising high schoolers created a formal student government at WBMS. The student council held its first elections a few weeks ago, and now has its officers and grade level representatives in place for the next school year.

Principal Saravo states directly that both NJHS and NSC are “co-curricular” as opposed to extra-curricular, with an inherent goal that student engagement in both organizations and their related school-wide activities will contribute to a more holistic learning environment for all students, and will strengthen students’ ownership and pride in their individual performance as well as in that of the school as a whole.

“It truly takes a collective effort,” said Saravo. “All of this was made possible because the entire West Broadway Middle School community – teachers, staff, students, and administrators – worked together.” Having laid the foundation for supporting not only student voice but collaboration between staff, faculty and administration, Saravo and her team look forward to what the next school year will bring.