Students hosting assemblies at South Whidbey Elementary

Jadan White watches his fellow South Whidbey Elementary School assembly emcee Grace Callahan practice her lines for the school’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly on Friday.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Jadan White watches his fellow South Whidbey Elementary School assembly emcee Grace Callahan practice her lines for the school’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly on Friday.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — Students are taking over at South Whidbey Elementary School.

Well, school assemblies at least.

A group of fifth-grade students were the emcees for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day gathering and celebration Friday. It’s the first student-led assembly the school has had. Six students will welcome the audience, begin the Pledge of Allegiance, transition between segments and quiet the audience, which they seemed to be eager for the day prior to the assembly.

“They’re pretty excited to do that,” said Carolyn Bippart, a third-grade teacher who helped organize the students.

Bippart was assisted by student support specialist Ellen Wallace. Together with fifth grade students Erin Brewer, Olivia O’Neill, Jadan White, Emma Gibson, Jacob Winn and Grace Callahan, they wrote the script three days before the assembly yesterday.

That led to some hesitancy by the kids about remembering their lines.

“If we forget one of our lines and don’t have our script, can we just wing it,” Erin asked.

Her adult supervisor’s response was swift.

“No,” Wallace answered.

Five of the six teacher-nominated speakers said they tried to memorize their parts. The script had lines such as, “Wow! Look at all the people here at our Martin Luther King assembly,” and “Yes, he really worked hard for respect for everyone. Respect was very important to him.”

There was no reason for students to worry about missing a line — they would have their scripts with them on stage. That didn’t diminish all the nerves, though. Emma, despite having stage experience with Whidbey Children’s Theater, was the lone leader who said she would not attempt memorizing her parts.

Emma’s friend Grace quickly spoke for her.

“In Emma’s defense, in theater you have two months to memorize lines,” said Grace, who wanted to deliver her lines without script.

The student-led assemblies are part of the school’s The Leader in Me program, which encourages responsibility and leadership in the students and staff. Propping some of the Orcas (the school’s mascot) on stage allowed their peers to imagine themselves up there, the assembly’s adult supervisors said.

“What we’re really trying to do is get students to see that they all can be leaders,” Wallace said.

One student was unfazed by the thought of standing before a few hundred students and parents.

Jadan answered a question about how nervous he was with, “Not that much,” which impressed Wallace because this is the fifth-grader’s first year at South Whidbey Elementary.

The young hosts also learn public speaking skills. As they rehearsed Thursday in Bippart’s room while her class was at a lesson specialist for art, they practiced cadence, projection, volume and eye contact.

“If you read slowly, the kids will get it better,” Bippart said.

Wallace chimed in, too.

“Remember your pow and punches in there,” she said, referring to inflection and intonation.

Aside from skills, the opportunity to lead the school in an assembly built confidence.

Olivia said she had aspirations of showing off to her family.

“I’m proud of myself, I’ve never been chosen to be the leader of anything,” she said.

“I’m definitely going to go home and brag about this.”

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