There was a time when being a student leader meant great sacrifices in terms of personal time -- often including giving up your lunch hour -- but a new student leadership class at Payson High School has changed all that.
"In the six or seven years I've been student government advisor, it was always an extracurricular activity where everything accomplished was accomplished on these kids' own time," said PHS English teacher Anna Van Zile. "Unfortunately, by the dynamics of leadership, your stronger leaders are the ones asked to do everything and it was asking a lot of the kids."
To encourage more students to get involved, Van Zile, co-sponsor Doug Eckhardt, and a group of student leaders came up with the idea of a leadership class.
"Last year we pitched the school board to create a class called career leadership," Van Zile said. "It's actually a vocational class, so these kids are getting vocational credit for it.
"It goes under the guise of information technology. We are trying to run student government this way through information technology."
Most of the 30 students enrolled in the class, which meets the last period of the day, are elected leaders.
"The class is mostly made up of student government officers for the four classes plus the executive board, and the other students are also considered members but just don't hold an office," Tina Jackson, PHS student body president, said.
The class has taken on a wide range of projects and assumed many functions.
"We have taken on as a class, then, homecoming, our powder puff football game, and we'll have a Character Counts week in the second semester," Van Zile said. "We're taking over Character Counts in general and the Renaissance Program."
Renaissance is a national program that "recognizes the efforts and achievements of students and rewards their academic performance through incentives from their school and community," according to Jackson.
Students receive one of three cards if they meet certain academic standards. Gold cards are given to students with a grade point average (GPA) of 3.75 or above, silver cards to students with a GPA of 3.0 to 3.74, and bronze cards to those with a GPA of 2.75 to 2.99.
"Different vendors around town honor the cards with incentives and discounts," Jackson said. "Like Chili's will give you 50 percent off your meal if you have a gold card and 33 percent if you have a silver card -- that sort of thing."
The school also offers incentives, like discounts at plays and other school events, and individual teachers do the same.
"It varies with different teachers, but such things as every Wednesday at the high school is Renaissance Day," Jackson explained. "If you're wearing purple and gold or something that says Payson High School, the teachers will give you like maybe a late homework pass or extra points on a test. And when it comes down to final exams, teachers really give you some good incentives and it really motivates students to get good grades."
The leadership class hopes that the program will grow and prosper under its direction rather than that of the teachers.
"I think it will work much better because basically it's the kids running the program as opposed to the adults, and I think it's more important to the kids than it is to the adults," Van Zile said.
"Basically we felt that in past years nothing was getting done about it," she said. "Now that we've taken it over we're saying, ‘OK, we're serious about this. We'd like something to get done.'"
Among the changes the class has in mind is to promote participating businesses better.
"We have met with different vendors in town that support our program," Jackson said. "We really want them to know that in return we will advertise their businesses at our high school."
The student leaders are also working to improve school and teacher incentives.
"We've really detailed what kinds of incentives we want from our teachers," Jackson said. "Basically, we're trying to make a guideline the teachers can follow that they have to do, because in the past it wasn't being enforced by them and teachers thought they didn't really have to do it. In return we are thinking of ideas for rewarding the teachers."
If all goes according to plan the new and improved Renaissance Program will be up and running by next semester. In the meantime, students in the leadership class are also working on a campus improvement project.
"We've just split up into groups and we had to write a grant to try and get money to fund our project, and we each have taken a different section of the high school that we want to improve somehow," Jackson said. "That's our big project we're doing for the first quarter.
"We basically outlined what we wanted to do if we did get the money from the grant, and if we don't get the money from the grant we're going to have to find other ways to get funding for it. Next semester we'll actually be starting work on it, like the landscaping or whatever we have decided.
"My group is working in front of the new cafeteria and we're looking at landscaping and putting in benches and some bushes because it's pretty bare."
The students would welcome donations of any kind, including plants and landscaping materials and equipment.
The class has also initiated a used cell phone collection drive as a fund-raising project. Rim country residents are encouraged to donate any old or surplus cell phones that will be recycled. The class earns $3 for each cell phone collected. For more information contact PHS at 474-2233.
Finally, there is the academic side of the career leadership class.
"Otherwise what we do in the class is go over a lot of parliamentary procedure, that sort of thing, so when we do have our meetings we can actually conduct them by the real rules," Jackson said.