Student led clubs promote independence among members

Archie Barton | Staff Writer

Student-run and student-led, high school clubs are redefining the traditional atmosphere of after school activities.

Speech and Debate are primarily led by four students: the President, in charge of the logistics and the roster, the Vice President, who handles judges and two secretaries, the Secretary of Fundraising, and the Secretary of Curriculum, who organize activity at practices. All four students are crucial in the success of the club and making sure each member is supported. 

Senior Diya Joshi, President of the Speech and Debate team, said the leadership has changed during her time as a member. In Joshi’s first year, there was a teacher advisor who led the club, and students were co-captains.

“Miss Donahue was the advisor my freshman year and she helped everyone, but there was also a student leader of three captains,” Joshi said. “Miss Donahue stopped advising my sophomore year, and that was the first year where we didn’t have a teacher advisor with us to every single tournament.”

Similarly, Science Olympiad has four student captains who make all the decisions involving competitions. Besides this, the club has three advisors. Chemistry teacher Aimee Hansen, one of the advisors, said her role is to support the students in their endeavors as they lead the club. If the captains decide to enter a competition, the advisors are there to make sure they get approval and have hotels booked for students to sleep in.

 “Whatever their vision is, we just help make it happen,” Hansen said. “The captains tell us what invitationals they want to go to and we try to say yes as often as we can. Whatever their goals are, we are going to back them up.”

Student leadership is still a strong factor in the success of the Science Olympiad and has a huge impact on determining who is ready for competitions, according to Junior Captain Kevin Ren. Captains study events, organize mock tests and even grade tests themselves.

 “The coaches have their day jobs teaching,” Ren said. “What we do after school is studying and understanding all the events that we compete in. By reading their work and testing we can help decide who’s ready for a competition.” 

The Mason Speech and Debate team brings an element of student leadership not seen in other schools when competing in tournaments. Joshi said having a unified team despite the absence of a coach demonstrates the commitment and passion of all members when they compete. 

 “Whenever I go to a tournament, everyone’s like, ‘Oh my God, my coach made me stay after every single day this week,’” Joshi said. “Just being able to say we don’t have a coach shows that the people we have are so self-motivated and that all 260 people in our club love speech and debate.”

Senior Captain of Science Olympiad Alisa Zhang said that success in tournaments is the goal of any competitive club, but building strong bonds among the team is the most important lesson any student leader can hope to teach.

 “At the end of the day, no matter how well you do, you need to stay motivated,” Zhang said. “You need to help the people around you so the team as a whole can do better, that’s what has kept me in the club.”

Event leaders play a role in both Science Olympiad and Speech and Debate. In Science Olympiad, these leaders provide students with the help and knowledge they need on a particular event or project. Having students in these roles can aid students in their events but also their all-round performance. 

 “We have event leaders for all of our events that teach the kids how to improve,” Ren said. “They also teach general stuff like how to study and hopefully how to have a good work ethic, all of those skills.”

Students in Speech and Debate are allowed to provide leadership and mentor roles that would usually be filled by a coach. Joshi said students can learn from event leaders and there is a more relaxed peer to peer learning environment. 

“Event leaders are very motivating and they provide instructional support, but they aren’t like a head coach,” Joshi said. “I like that it is student-led and that everyone works hard by themselves because they want to. I think it helps that they have event leaders their age because it is easier to learn from them that way.” 

For Science Olympiad students, Hansen said that those who compete need little help from teachers. The drive to do well and win in competitions surpasses the need for advisors. 

“These kids are so competitive that we really can’t help them,” Hansen said. “By the time we get to the state competition, the chemistry competitors know more about chemistry events than I do.”

Whether they have an advisor or not, both clubs have leaders that take on the work themselves, ensuring the clubs continue to run. Joshi said that not having a coach does not limit the club, and student leadership has been a contributing factor to their success. 

“[Student leadership] has made the team feel more like a family,” Joshi said. “I think we’re successful because everyone loves it so much and having student leadership has helped in that and being a team as a whole. ” 

Photos by Archie Barton and Lily Geiser.

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