Ten-year-old Mikala Starkey of Barbour County's Mt. Vernon Elementary School was presenting a PowerPoint on the school's Intervention program earlier this week to the Barbour County Board of Education.
Her presentation was part of the school's annual Local School Improvement Committee presentation, which is supposed to introduce the BOE to the school's accomplishments, programs, projects and needs.
Then something terrible happened.
Inter-Mountain photo by Joe Hoover
Mt. Vernon Elementary School students Kylie Marks, Mandi Gain and Mikala Starkey present Mt. Vernon’s LSIC presentation to the Barbour County Board of Education this week.
The computer shut down.
She was left in the dark with no PowerPoint. No slides. No visual presentation.
Starkey, along with fellow Mt. Vernon fifth-graders Kylie Marks and Mandi Gain, had been responsible for putting together the LSIC presentation, and she was at risk of unraveling.
"You could hear people in the audience gasp," said Principal Tammy Tucker. "No one was sure how the kids would handle it."
However, while other much more seasoned public speakers might have crumbled, Starkey did not miss a beat. And, while she continued to explain the school's Intervention program, her co-presenter Marks calmly turned the computer back on and brought up the PowerPoint.
This kind of levelheaded leadership is characteristic of Mt. Vernon's students, said Tucker, who is largely responsible for the school's recent incorporation of an educational model, called The Leader in Me, which focuses on developing students' leadership capacities.
"We want our students to leave Mt. Vernon respectful, confident and capable leaders," Tucker said.
Though she only began implementing The Leader in Me programs last November, she said her students already have grown remarkably.
This is why she decided to assign the LSIC presentation to fifth-graders Starkey, Marks and Gain. She explained the purpose of the presentation, told them what it needed to address and gave them free reign to develop their own ideas.
"They did everything," she said. "They gathered the data, took photographs and video, and then designed their own PowerPoint presentations."
Starkey outlined the school's Intervention program in her presentation. It focuses on providing students with positive influences through a variety of venues. Among other things, she provided an overview of a career project that she and her fellow students recently completed.
"We had to choose five jobs and write a seven-paragraph paper about them," Starkey said. "In the paper, we had to provide an overview of each job and then we had to choose which one we want to do when we grow up. Then we had to create a PowerPoint presentation based on our paper. We gave our presentations to a panel of judges, who then awarded the best presentations.
"Kylie won first and I won second," she continued. "For our prize, we get to shadow WDTV News reporter Katie Lusso for a day, because we want to be reporters when we grow up."
Starkey also spoke about how she and her fellow students are working toward improving their school's food choices.
"The photograph we used for the PowerPoint was actually a photograph of some of the food available at our school. Sometimes we don't get very healthy food. However, it is getting better. We get fruit, vegetables, milk and whole-grain cereal."
Marks developed a PowerPoint that outlined the school's academic performance as well as its goals, core beliefs and mission statement.
"Mt. Vernon had one of the highest WesTest scores in Barbour County," she said. "It was also the only elementary school in the county to make AYP (adequate yearly progress). We awarded certificates of excellence for WesTest achievement for 13 students."
Gains' PowerPoint introduced the responsibilities and activities of the school's leadership team, which is comprised of Mt. Vernon students.
"The team helps in all sorts of ways," she said. "We help kids with worksheets, we make important phone calls for special events and we set up special activities."
Tucker said the students "have practically taken over. They help with everything. They answer the phones, they plan events, they greet visitors, they even record the weekly phone messages that outline the school week's events that we send to parents every Sunday."
Tucker is not exaggerating.
"Sometimes, when I come to school, I can't even sit at my desk, because it is occupied by one, or several, of my students who are already working on something," she said.
"As you might have guessed from the PowerPoints, we try to familiarize our students with technology, too," Tucker added. "Through grant funding and careful budgeting, we have even managed to provide each of our 72 students with a Kindle and a netbook to use while they are at school.
"We just want to give our students the best, most sophisticated education possible," she said.
Mt. Vernon's students seem to believe they are getting exactly that.
"Mt. Vernon is the best school I have ever been to," Starkey said.
Marks added, "I feel like I am getting a very good education here. I feel like I could probably be in high school right now."