Marina Kregel is president of student council and NJHS at Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook, NY.

With the school year coming to an end, and as I prepare to graduate from Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook, NY, I’ve started to reflect on my involvement in student council and National Junior Honor Society (NJHS). I’m currently president of both organizations at my school, and they have helped me prepare for high school and what comes next. Student leadership has taught me how to earn people’s trust and hold their attention, how to lead meetings and organize events, and most importantly, how to include everyone. I believe that student leadership is ultimately about encouraging others to make the world a better place for all.

As student council president, I have learned what it means to serve my school community. I participate in our school’s Principal’s Council, where homeroom representatives present ideas and give our principal input from the student body. One of the first projects we discussed was the building of an outdoor playground for our school. To plan for it, we engaged the local community by making it a collaborative project in which residents could sign up to help build. The success of this activity was outstanding because it brought together Red Hook residents with our school community, and everyone eagerly participated. The playground was finished before the beginning of the school year. It is used for outdoor lunch, recess, and classes.

It’s been an honor to lead our student council, which earned a Gold Council of Excellence Award during my time as president. The award recognizes student councils across the country for demonstrating stellar leadership in schools and communities.

Another accomplishment I’m proud of is our participation in the New York State Council on Leadership and Student Activities, which held its conference in March. Our adviser, Kim Goldhirsch, made us aware of this opportunity, in which I helped plan a leadership conference for students throughout the state.

I also led a workshop for it focused on how to improve communication as student leaders. A single voice isn’t loud enough to change the world for the better; we need many voices. In my session, I encouraged students to improve their leadership skills by sharing tips for communicating in person and online. Then, I led an activity to help them practice.

Leadership Beyond the School Building

For many students, leadership extends beyond the school building. Students demonstrate leadership in all kinds of athletic endeavors, and for me, that means the swimming pool. I’m honored to be a part of the Northern Dutchess Aquatic Club, where I am a swimmer in Group 4. For me, swimming is a major part of my life. Most of my friends are on the team, and I have amazing coaches that support me in the pool and in life. Coach Anthony Porto’s advice at every practice and swim meet includes important guidance for the future. He often reminds us that setbacks are learning opportunities that can bring out the best in us.

One of my responsibilities on the team that I am most proud of is serving as the lane leader of my practice lane. In this role, I make sure that everyone knows what we’re doing, and I keep track of intervals (the set time to complete a swim of a certain distance and then rest). I also make sure that everyone feels they are a part of the team and that we congratulate each other for achievements and support each other during tough races.

I have also been involved in community activities, such as the ones organized by Culture Connect, a nonprofit organization in the Hudson Valley that promotes understanding and connections among young people from different cultural backgrounds and their communities. Some of their programs involve celebrating cultural holidays, such as The Day of the Dead, originally celebrated in Mexico.

In my community, Culture Connect organized a series of workshops and events to celebrate this holiday. As the representative of our school’s student council, I was part of the leadership team for organizing several workshops. The team included several community partners: the Red Hook Public Library, Four Corners Farm, Red Hook Community Center, and Culture Connect. The workshops and activities, which we started planning throughout the summer, culminated in a celebration in November at Four Corners Farm. Several members of our student council participated in various events and contributed to the success of these events.

The Value of Student Elections

One of the most important things I’ve learned by participating in student council is the value of democracy and free and fair elections. Middle school students are not too young to understand why it’s everyone’s civic duty to vote. Elections for student council introduce young people to the process of voting and how the process only works when everyone is included. I believe that everyone should be able to easily vote without obstacles and have a voice.

By voting and running for office, students gain a sense of ownership, independence, and responsibility. They also learn how to manage conflicts. Personal conflicts, such as fights with friends, are learning experiences for growing as a leader. These situations are not fun, but they are part of learning how to handle leadership and maintain a positive outlook. 

I have had the support of family, friends, teachers, and coaches. All have helped me in some way. I want to thank my parents, who have supported me, watched me, helped me grow, and have driven me to and from all my leadership and swim events. I want to give a shoutout to my best friend, Allison Weber, who has supported me by serving as student council vice president; another shoutout to my adviser, Kim Goldhirsch, who has given me all the amazing opportunities that have made me the person I am today; and my swim coach, Anthony Porto, who has not only helped us become better swimmers but also better people.

I also want to thank our student council members who have made every plan a reality. Finally, I want to give a shoutout to my school’s faculty and staff for making our school a wonderful place to grow, and to my fellow students and peers who have helped me in countless ways. I hope to continue to be a student leader throughout the rest of my school career and am excited to see where it will take me. As we begin high school, my hope is that we do what Coach Porto once told me: Remember why you do what you do—not only in student leadership but in everything.

Marina Kregel is an eighth grader at Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook, NY, and president of its NJHS chapter and student council.