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West Orient leadership club teaches skills and empathy

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Leadership club members discuss some recent successes, from left, Elisabeth Ross, Emma Bowles, Sydney Phillippi and Sindy Lopez. The 19 students in a newly formed leadership club at West Orient Middle School are off to a roaring start.

Since teacher Joe Cioeta started the group just after winter break, the students have already managed a wildly successful food drive and several community-boosting events for their school.

“We try to do different events every month that help inspire school spirit, community outreach and general leadership in our youth,” said Cioeta, a math and choir teacher.

The students are enthusiastic and aware of the benefits of the new club to both themselves and the school.

“We’re learning how to work as a team. And, we’re learning to be organized,” said seventh-grader Emma Bowles.

Elisabeth Ross, also a seventh-grader, said the activities the club plans “brings more spirit to the school. It’s fun. So kids look forward to school and want to come. It will help our academics because a lot more kids will come to school.”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Leadership club members Donovan Morales, from left, Payton Albert and Mason Judd pose in Cioetas super hero-themed classroom at West Orient Middle School.  Payton Albert said he joined the club because he thinks “it would be good to start leadership now, because when I go to high school, I want to do, like, ASB (associated student body) in high school.”

The club meets after school every Wednesday. Students apply for the club, and all are welcome.

“I’m teaching them event planning and proposal skills,” he said.

The students are also learning to follow correct procedures with school administrators to get plans approved, honing their powers of persuasion and the skills of arriving at a consensus and getting others to back an idea.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Joe Cioeta, choir and math teacher at West Orient Middle School, started the leadership club to boost positive behavior at the school.  “We’re hoping that what they do rubs off on other students, to the extent that is possible, to exert some positive peer pressure,” Cioeta said.

Donovan Morales, a seventh grade leadership student, agrees that the leadership club members are learning “to be role models for other kids.”

The club’s first effort was “crazy hair day,” and the leadership students and Cioeta agreed it was a big hit. The sixth graders sported the greatest number of daffiest ‘do’s and won an ice cream party for their efforts.

In February, instead of another spirit event, the students opted for a food drive. The club members decided they would get a better response by making it a competition.

The club made signs, crafted announcements, got staff involved and held a spirit assembly complete with staff vs. student games to announce the winner. In just a week-and-a half, the school collected 3,577 items of non-perishable food. The eighth graders won this contest with 1,497 cans and boxes of food.

This bounty was donated to SnowCap, which runs a food pantry in East Multnomah County.

“We learned awareness of how some people are less fortunate,” said Morales.

Right before spring vacation, the leadership club organized spirit week, with a different theme and activities every day, wrapping up with a Hawaiian-theme and beach party on Friday. The spirit days are teaching the students the nuances of how to make an event successful.

“We were going to do a pajama day, but we didn’t think the boys would want to participate in that, said seventh-grader Sindy Lopez, so that idea was abandoned.

Cioeta said the club “is a way to start bringing some of the spirit and good back into the school that sometimes seems misplaced.”

He thinks it is working.

“The vibe and atmosphere of the school,” he noted, “is improving.”