Paving a Path for Middle School Leaders

GW SGA members shared ideas with DCPS’s Eliot-Hine Middle School students on running a student government.

March 13, 2024

CCAS graduate student Leroy Ellis, Katelyn Moon, SGA president Arielle Geismar, Dan Saleem, Benny Huang and Biyang Soh.

From left: SGA members Katelyn Moon, Leroy Ellis, SGA President Arielle Geismar, Dan Saleem, Benny Huang and Biyang Soh. (Photos: B.L. Wilson/GW Today)

In pursuit of an initiative started summers ago—the creation of a student led governing body—students from the Model United Nations Institute at Eliot-Hine Middle School in Northeast Washington met with members of the George Washington University Student Government Association (SGA) to explore what it means to lead.

On a day when they would ordinarily be in class, an earnest and focused group of more than 40 students from sixth, seventh and eighth grades spent the day in retreat at the University Student Center (USC) brainstorming with GW student leaders on the importance of student governance. They were welcomed by Nia Crawford, a graduate assistant in the Civic Changemakers program of the Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service that partners with middle schools in the District of Columbia to increase involvement in the community.

Crawford was joined by SGA members, third-year students Dan Saleem, Biyang Soh, Katelyn Moon and Benny Huang; graduate student Leroy Ellis; and senior and SGA President Arielle Geismar.

The program was initially planned for a smaller executive group of Eliot-Hine student leaders who extended the invitation to encourage other students at their school to become involved, for which Saleem, a member of the SGA Senate, commended them for being both positive and responsible.

“As leaders, we’re not going to know everything about every student need,” he said. “That’s impossible. What we can do is create a structure where students have an opportunity to share their perspectives, make sure we take notes and take those into account.”

Seated at round tables throughout the room on USC’s fourth floor, the students began by exploring among themselves the importance of having a student-led governing body. A compiled list was then shared with the full group, and it included improving communications, helping students speak out, improving food choices in the lunchroom and holding themselves and their peers accountable.

“You have to have a lot of leadership to know what the students want in general…to know what to do,” said Maliyah Williams, an eighth grader and the Eliot-Hine Model UN president. “Like when we did the dance, what music did students want to listen to. We’re trying to make sure everybody has everything they want and need.”

As the day went on, the concerns grew more serious as the middle schoolers fired questions to GW SGA members about how they work, whether there’s a student court for people who break rules, how SGA members get their positions, whether the elections include debates and vigorous campaigning, and whether SGA participation limit time for other college activities.

Holding up her sports bag, Geismar, the SGA president, explained that after she left them, she would head to ultimate Frisbee practice, which she attends three times a week. Geismar also does improv work and pledged a sorority.

When asked how she promotes SGA to GW students, Geismar explained, “You’re responsible as a leader to be that kind of person that can be approachable, that wants to help people and really does help people when they come to you. I was put in this position to do something about it. Let’s chat about it. Let me hear you out. A lot of it is not promoting the government, just doing your job.”

One Eliot-Hine student asked Geismar whether she “profited” from being SGA president. “I don’t know if I would use the word ‘profit,’” Geismar replied. “I feel really rewarded when I’m able to help people… I would not be doing this if it were not meaningful or exciting, or I didn’t feel like I was helping people.” 

Saleem added that many colleges and universities do pay SGA members or give top elected members a tuition discount. “We don’t get paid anything” at GW, he said. “It’s all volunteer based.”

Eliot-Hine Middle School Model United Nations President Maliyah Williams poses questions to the larger group.
Eliot-Hine Middle School Model United Nations President Maliyah Williams poses questions to the larger group.

The next exercise involved the Eliot-Hine students coming up with guidelines for how they should conduct themselves. They emphasized the value of respecting each other and their peers, holding themselves accountable, knowing when they’re doing the wrong thing and having good communications to keep ideas flowing. They practiced how they would approach someone whose behavior was not within the guidelines.

They set goals that lined up with the guidelines, initiatives to stop bullying and cursing by working with students and teachers, seeking more access to mental health services, establishing phone time and starting a community garden.

“It’s a really hard thing to start a student representative thing, and the fact that they did this on their own. They had ideas,” Geismar said at the end of the day. “It’s phenomenal their wanting to do that, and their passion for making things better is completely sweeping.”

The Eliot-Hine teacher and adviser, Suriya Douglas, was excited by “the connections students made and being able to see what student governance looks like, especially the main leaders hearing the SGA president speak about her work. I look forward to taking back the exercises where they generated solutions.”

The Eliot-Hine students rounded out the day with pizza and soda, a stop by the SGA offices and a tour of the GW campus.

GW Student Government Association elections for the 2024-2025 academic year will be April 11 and April 12.