La Jolla High student government reflects on leadership

This year, America will elect a new president. And the future leaders of America — specifically those found at La Jolla High School — will be watching. The students elected to La Jolla’s Associated Student Body (ASB) — which helps foster school spirit through dances, campus activities and student clubs — sat down with La Jolla Light to discuss what they think makes a good leader.

Having participated in the electoral process, many said they have a better awareness of how balance, diplomacy, good role models and being able to follow through on what they are tasked with are crucial to good leadership.

“Watching this election, especially with the insight that I get to vote for the next president, I have a greater respect for all the candidates — whether they are with the party for which I’m going to vote or not,” said ASB President Claire Andrews. “Just being able to see the world, not only as black and white, but also merge political ideas into grey to better the country as a whole — that’s a lot of what we have to do here at La Jolla High. Plus, watching them get up there in front of everyone in the United States and express their views, whether people agree or not, is admirable to me.”

Added Student Rep-at-Large Grant Devermann, “Running for an elected position, you need to be down-to-earth and understand what different groups want and need. Just like in the country, our school has different groups of people, and I’ve learned that when I do something on ASB, some people will love it and some people will hate it. It’s all about balance, because no matter what happens, someone will be mad. That’s just life.”

Many reported having good role models to guide them and provide examples of leadership. “Mr. (Joe) Cavaiola, our ASB advisor, has been an incredible role model to anyone who has taken his class,” said Andrews. “He’s passionate about the school and really puts his heart and soul into everything we do – from dances to welcoming freshmen. He has showed us to be that way, and how to clearly communicate.”

La Jolla High School athletic director Paula Conway has been a role model for ASB vice-president Maya Hildebrand. “She holds us accountable for ourselves and taught us how to be organized. For me, that transitioned into the classroom and ASB.”

Water polo coach Tom Atwell has also led by example, according to senior class president Simon Hirschfield. “He’s an intimidating guy. He’s the fittest man in La Jolla and he taught me it’s worth it to work hard because he lives by that. He taught me about fortitude,” Hirschfield said.

Many students said they are engaged in volunteer opportunities with groups outside of school that encourage them to better their surroundings, which is exactly what ASB is tasked with. For example, during her freshman year, Hildebrand was president of Interact Club, a teenage version of Rotary. “But I wanted to have a bigger position in stuff involving school spirit and dances, and that’s what ASB does. I like planning and organizing, so it seemed like a good fit for me,” she said.

Andrews and ASB treasurer Julia Albenez participated in National Charity League, which carries out volunteer projects such as beach cleanups and visiting with senior citizens. “Through National Charity League, I learned how great it feels to give back and how empowering it is to build leadership skills,” Albenez said.

These past service experiences lit the flame for many of these students to do more. At La Jolla High School, that means renewing the sense of school spirit and enthusiasm. Albenez said, “I want to make this school as spirited as it once was. I hear alumni say how much they loved this school, and I want all the students who are here now to feel that way when they leave.”

Added Devermann, who as rep-at-large is in charge of homecoming dance, “Historically, we’ve been a very spirited school, but lately that’s been dropping. My goal is to bring that school spirit back. My parents always talked about what a big deal dances were, I feel like people at our school don’t look forward to them as much. So I want to give them something to look forward to and enjoy.”

But this year’s leadership has had specific challenges on top of getting nonchalant teenagers excited for a dance. Andrews said the loss of their home field due to ongoing construction and the change in administrators in recent years (principal Chuck Podhorsky came on board in February 2014, and two vice-principals have departed since then), has been a hindrance to Vikings’ spirits.

“We have a free speech board, where for two weeks, anyone can post what they want and it can’t be taken down. The posts started to get really negative,” Andrews explained. “But through ASB, our group has done a good job to change that vibe to be more positive. I hope we can keep that upbeat vibe through the end of the year.”

Maintaining that vibe, ASB advisor Cathy Hutchins said, means everything from creating campus activities to fundraising. “One of the most important things they do is fundraise for each class, so when that class is in its senior year, their senior dues (for yearbook, prom, graduation, senior breakfast) will be lower. They start in the ninth grade and have fundraisers every year,” she said. “They help a lot of students who are more introverted by spreading spirit and getting those kids involved.”

Considering many ASB leaders said they were inspired to join ASB because of the class before them, Hutchins attests to the value of student leaders. “Having peers the students can look up to and emulate is good for the student body at large,” she said.

Hopeful that this year’s ASB leaders will motivate the next group, Andrews said, “My goal for this year at La Jolla High is to create an environment where everyone is comfortable and understands what’s going on around them. I want a constant flow of information at school to make sure I leave it better than when I got here. I hope that continues with future generations.”

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