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Oklahoma students learn about leadership at conference

December 24, 2018

ENID, Okla. (AP) — OAMJHSC is a long acronym for an old organization that hasn’t always meant much to many in Northwest Oklahoma. Though for some Enid students, it has quickly come to mean more than was likely intended, and has pushed them to accomplish more than was perhaps expected.

Participation in the Oklahoma Association of Middle and Junior High Student Councils has brought all three EPS middle schools, Longfellow, Emerson, Waller, together to lead, compete, cooperate and achieve as a team for the first time.

“This year we went, truly, as Enid middle school leadership,” Emerson student council sponsor and language arts teacher Erik Thomas told the Enid News & Eagle .

By joining the three student councils together, they have been able to achieve more than any one has individually in years, he said.

“We all bring our own skills into it to help each other out, because on our own it would be overwhelming,” Thomas said.

For 68 years, OAMJHSC has invited middle school and junior high student councils from all Oklahoma under one roof for two-day leadership conferences where they deliver speeches and presentations, and run short elections for public offices.

Students practice and pick up useful skills at the conferences, Thomas said, particularly interpersonal ones, like networking, discussion, and debate.

Participation in the conferences has waxed and waned over its nearly seven decades, rarely, if ever, achieving the same popularity in the northwest as elsewhere in the state.

The conferences have been hosted all over the state, but rarely in Northwest Oklahoma.

In the last 10 years, Emerson was the only Enid school to attend these conferences with consistency, Thomas said. They never mounted any campaigns, however, they didn’t have the manpower.

“We never really ran for office, it was too much for me, for us, to do by ourselves with as much else as we have going on.” Erik Thomas said. “We just sort of attended.”

After convincing Waller and Longfellow to get on board, that problem was solved.

At the most recent conference in early November, the united Enid student councils won their bid for state secretary.

In 2017, the schools made a last-minute decision to team up for the first time. Together, the roughly 50 students took the title of state historian.

Enid has gone from low involvement, to holding elected office, to holding an even higher elected office, all in three years. Each year has been an improvement on the last.

Thomas wants to keep that momentum going, he said, with no better way to ensure student involvement than continued success.

It’s been a little over a month since the Nov. 8-9 conference, where the Enid schools won state secretary, but already they have designs on the vice presidency for the 69th annual. Depending on the degree of participation and preparedness, Thomas wants to encourage his kids to pursue the presidency at the 70th.

If they won the top office it would mean hosting the next conference in Enid, which hasn’t happened since 1995, according to OAMJHSC.

It also would mean about 6,000 students from 60 or more schools in town, making the event a perfect fit for Central National Bank Center, he said.

More than that, it would bring the conference to Northwest Oklahoma for a change, and not the Tulsa and Oklahoma City areas, or whatever other far and away place.

Participation is important for reasons beyond honing leadership skills or winning an elected office he said. There is a lot to learn just by taking part.

“We go out and we have dinner together, we stay together at a hotel, so this isn’t just learning leadership skills, this is learning life skills, too. We talk hotel etiquette, restaurant etiquette, we talk about tipping and how that works,” he said. “Some of these kids have never stayed in a hotel without their parents. Some of these kids have never really been outside of Enid.

“The whole trip itself is a learning lesson on a lot of levels,” he said. “So when they come back you can definitely see maturity on many levels.”

None of these trips could happen without support from EPS, and outside help from the community, Thomas said.

Enid’s Elks Lodge 2104, Enid Noon AMBUCS, Women of the Moose Lodge and Emerson PTSA all donated a total of $1,400, Thomas said, for which he and the kids are grateful.

It isn’t cheap to get 50 students, many from low-income households, all together to another city, and keep them fed and sheltered.

“For us and Longfellow, there would be no way we could do this without the community,” he said.

More support is always appreciated.

“We’re struggling, I’ll be honest with you,” he said. Thomas is in the middle of creating a community donation letter he will be sending out to all community businesses and organizations.

He and student council members spend more time scraping money together than they do preparing for the conference.

“We’re constantly working on fundraising. It’s kind of a non-stop effort, very time-consuming,” he said.

They have big plans, and money is the last thing they want getting in the way.

“Now that we’re together as all three schools, it just gives us something really solid to work on together,” he said, the work they put in now will pay dividends in the future. “It really creates unity and leadership as they head up to high school.”

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Information from: Enid News & Eagle, http://www.enidnews.com

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