HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal


The Student Ambassador Program: Building a School through Student Leadership

by Rise Arkin, Director of Admissions Issue: Leadership Dispositions The Weber School, Atlanta

Over the past three years, enrollment at our Jewish community high school of 270 students has increased by 25%.  We added 35 programs, classes and athletic options in the past four years. We have also expanded our faculty in each subject area.  Our work has been guided and inspired by our new head of school, but, an essential and most unique driver of our enrollment emerged through the refocusing of our student ambassador program, one that centers upon student leadership development as opposed to school promotion.

 

Each time I meet with a prospective family, I always ask how they heard of Weber. More and more prospective students and their families are naming Weber student ambassadors who have spoken to them outside of school about their Weber experience and have motivated them to sign up for student visits. As opposed to serving as agents of the admissions office, student ambassadors are my partners in designing and managing Weber admissions. Rather than merely serving as “poster children” for the high school, they learn and practice skills of public speaking and communications, strategic planning, personal counseling and community organizing, skills that both prepare the students for college and careers and serve the school’s ambitious goals for student recruitment in an increasingly competitive high school market.

 

Whereas, in the past, the number of ambassadors was limited, now I accept all sophomores, juniors and seniors who complete an application and commit to a program of preparation and leadership training. Student ambassadors not only have the opportunity to share feedback; they are expected to contribute to our planning and strategy with their creativity and ideas. They understand that they are essential to telling Weber’s story through their unique voice and perspective, sharing their experiences while offering school tours and bringing their energy to admissions events and community programs.

 

Last summer, three rising seniors on the student ambassador team initiated a meeting to discuss ideas for expanding and enriching the program. They worked with me to analyze our admissions strategies and added new elements, most notably a highly sophisticated plan for leveraging social media applications such as “GroupMe.”

 

A student ambassador’s role does not begin and end with a tour of the school or speaking at admissions events. Ambassadors work with me on an ongoing basis, personalizing schedules for each student visitor in a way that addresses each prospective student’s interests and passions. Visiting students are hosted by freshman ambassadors in each class that they visit and are then guided from class to class by more experienced ambassadors.

 

Jewish day schools have always built our reputations upon educational quality and value and the vibrancy and clarity of our mission. Nonetheless, sustainability also requires us to cultivate and empower our students as true school ambassadors, for they consistently serve as the most authentic, passionate and compelling advocates for our program and mission. A robust student ambassador program can help students develop leadership skills, help the school showcase the quality of its education, and help drive significant recruitment success.

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Leadership Dispositions

Articles in this issue go beyond the skills and knowledge that a school leader requires, to explore the "dispositions," character traits, essential for this role. Half of the contributors currently occupy day school leadership roles; they reflect on the importance of a particular quality to their leadership style and experience. The other half are written by people engaged in training leaders, of Jewish education and beyond. Collectively, the pieces in the issue reflect part of the spectrum of personal qualities that inform the work of successful day school leadership.

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