The student council at Boston International School (BIS) in Jiangsu, China, is among the 337 winners of this year’s National Council of Excellence. The award recognizes student councils for implementing a strong leadership program that meets council goals; functioning in an ethical and responsible way; and engaging others in leadership, spirit, civic, and service activities. In this post, Brian Rotunno, academic principal of BIS, discusses the council’s success.

Tell us a little about the student council at your school.

Brian Rotunno is academic principal of Boston International School in Jiangsu, China.

I’ve been at the school for four years, but there’s really been a transformation in our student council (we call it SLIC, which stands for Student Leadership and Involvement Council) in the past two years. We’re a small school, with 430 students in preK–12. Our membership on the council has grown from just five members to more than 20 during that time. We have six officers and generally two elected students from grades 5–12. Our student services director, Carlos Arboleta, serves as the sponsor. He really tries to empower the students, and especially the officers, to take ownership of the SLIC and to develop and conduct student-based actions.

You’ve said you’re especially proud of one council initiative called “no one eats alone.” What is that and how did it come about?

The reality in our school, as in most schools, is that some students eat alone. In their discussions about student well-being, the council talked about this issue and, in the spirit of being an inclusive learning community, came up with this campaign. We even have posters around school promoting it. It’s been great to see students taking initiative to make sure everyone feels part of the school, including at lunch. It has even translated into some of our classes. Our fifth graders, for example, have set up rotations so everyone is regularly sitting with different classmates. They also have a weekly classroom luncheon. This initiative reflects the spirit of bringing the school together, and it has definitely brightened the days of a number of students on our campus.

What are some other student council projects that you’re proud of?

Students attend the Winter Ball organized by the Student Leadership and Involvement Council at Boston International School.

One special event they have organized for three years in a row is our Winter Ball. Many of our students struggle to maintain a positive balance between schoolwork and social life, and the ball is one example of how our student council has really pushed an initiative that moves our campus culture in a positive and fun direction. They organize our prom, as well. Our council members have also run dodgeball and handball tournaments during break/lunch times, and they’ve organized two separate movie nights, for elementary and secondary students. Several of our members are also in NHS, and the two groups did a joint Turkey/Syria relief effort following the earthquake in February, where they raised more than 44,000 Chinese Yuan (about $6,400). I’m very proud of how our student council works to make our school better every day. They also have several new activities planned for later this year, including Spirit Week and a Big Buddies/Little Buddies program.

Is there much difference in how the student council works in an international school vs. at a school here in the U.S.?

Because we’re a smaller school, I think the SLIC has been able to be a part of a lot of activities and take initiative in ways that might be more difficult at a bigger school. Our elections, which are the results of an “East meets West” approach, are very inclusive. Across all classes, students pick one or two representatives through a private online ballot. Students vote based on who they feel has exemplified our school’s goals and has demonstrated service to our school/student body through their daily actions. Nearly all students participate. After the elected representatives accept their positions, they in turn elect the council’s officers, in line with the constitution. The outcome is an excellent schoolwide experience; it embodies a great democratic process that incorporates a wide range of traditions in electing leadership.

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