The house band plays. Seniors, Gabe Rand and Chase Fortier saunter out onto the stage, microphones in hand. “Good Morning Harwood.” A mumbled response. We said, “Good Morning Harwood.” The audience awakens from their fog and responds with hellos, cheers and other assorted ‘shout outs.’ The Harwood Student Assembly begins.
Harwood Union High School has a unique tradition; that is a student run assembly program. Each year a new assembly crew is formed to plan and run a 70 minute assembly twice a month. Our student crew meets weekly to brainstorm, create, and network. They then organize the various components including full technical support, in order to coordinate an engaging, flawless Assembly to an audience of 600 students ages 13-18.
The purpose of the Assembly is to build community. The bi-monthly event highlights the collective and individual accomplishments in academics, arts, athletics, and other co- curricular programs at Harwood. Students may see a teaser of an upcoming performance, listen to peers slam poetry, debate a philosophical question, see a wrestler model proper techniques – with a faculty volunteer of course. Co-curricular events and special awards are announced and spirit points are awarded in friendly competitions that pit class against class. Videos are created and shown that spoof on day in the lives of teenagers at school and beyond, the house band plays, and faculty and staff often join in on the fun.
In addition, the crew dedicates hours to researching relevant ways to connect the Harwood student body to the broader community – from our six sending towns to our National and the Global society. It may be a teacher using his/her content expertise to celebrate or honor and make a connections, be it to 911, Martin Luther King, or the scientific relevance of Valentine’s Day. It may be a guest speaker or presenter from a non-profit agency dedicated to improving the well being of others. It may a Skype with a former student, riding his bicycle cross country and back to raise awareness and telling us stories of his experience. Regardless of what it might be, at all times, the crew is focused on adhering to the tenets of our Mission; that is an “educational and creative environment in which every person is valued as an individual, challenged as a learner and inspired to contribute to a democratic society.”
Former Assembly Hosts, Sienna Damon and Tim Harris capture the student body in a ‘selfie’ at the start of the “Spirit Week” Finale Assembly
Despite the strengths of the Harwood Student Assembly, it is not without challenges. To build a community from diverse backgrounds, beliefs, interests and developmental stages requires time and opportunity. Our audience and/or individuals in the audience, like any learner, need modeling, coaching and practice to be the very best they can be. It requires on-going commitment and support from our faculty/staff and student body.
On October 29th, for the first time in Assembly history, we hosted a panel of local candidates to share their perspectives on important local, State and National issues. This opportunity allowed students – many for the very first time, to participate in an event that replicates a town hall forum or formal public debate. Our audience, although not ‘perfect’, demonstrated a high degree of decorum. They cheered during the introduction and closing, but listened intently and respectfully during the candidate responses.
The Harwood Student Assembly is a signature program and many other schools have come to see and learn about it. We are fortunate to have the time, energy and resources to provide our students with such a unique opportunity to exercise leadership, voice and choice.