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CHS student council is tops in state

Posted: May 18, 2017 5:03 p.m.
Updated: May 19, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

CHS Student Council members (from left) Meg Matthews, freshman; Tyshawn Gant, freshman; Senior Class President Kaylah Haney; and Student Body President Brooke Galdeen are all smiles over the school’s Student Council Coalition Student Government of the Year Award. The council received these and other awards during the Student Council Coalition Exchange recently held in Columbia.

A weekend in April marked some firsts for the student council of Camden High School (CHS). For the first time ever, the S.C. Student Council Coalition (SCC) held a special leadership conference called an “exchange” at the University of South Carolina Inn. So, for the first time, members of the CHS council attended the exchange.

While there, they picked up some awards for the first time, including the first-ever SCC Student Government of the Year Award.

In other words, the SCC named CHS’ student council the best in the state.

Recently, Senior Class President Kaylah Haney, Student Body President Brooke Galdeen and freshmen council members Tyshawn Gant and Meg Matthews, sat down to talk about what serving on the council and receiving the award -- and three others -- means to them. A lot of it, they said, might have to do with reaching out to the greater community.

“The main thing was our portfolio on the whole (school) year,” Kaylah said.

“It showed that we reach out to the community, like through the United Way,” Brooke added, noting council also led the way for memorials to be held for students who have died in recent years. “We had to eliminate some things (in the portfolio) because we had so much.”

“You do a lot,” said Tyshawn, “and that’s shown by trying to get the school together.”

Meg, who happens to be Principal Dan Matthews’ daughter, said the experience of putting the portfolio together helped the council to grow and improve.

“We were able to reflect and try to do even better,” she said.

Student Council Advisor Angela Brennen, who is also a teacher and the school’s assistant track coach, said CHS succeeded even though much bigger schools attended the exchange. She listed off a number of activities student council has helped organize or participated in: Homecoming, Spirit Week, holiday “cookie grams,” pep rallies, proms and the Community Medical Clinic of Kershaw County’s Clinic Classic, just to name a few.

“Principal Matthews also wanted us to help out with parent/freshmen orientation,” Brennen said.

Brooke said the exchange brought many different student councils together, with different leadership styles and models.

“We could bring some of those ideas back and use them here,” she said.

In addition, Kaylah noted, members of the University of South Carolina’s (USC) student government served as mentors during the exchange. She said there are many differences between high school and college student councils.

“Well, they’re a lot bigger,” Kaylah said, “and more like an official student government.”

“They can change rules,” Meg added.

“I like that they have an office,” Tyshawn said, adding -- with a smile -- that he thinks they should have one at CHS, too.

More seriously, Tyshawn said college student government senators actually represent different interests on their campuses.

Brennen picked up on what Meg and Tyshawn said, posing the idea that her charges might want to take a new angle to the student council at CHS and start being a part of the school-level policy-making process.

“If something is reasonable and it’s something the majority of students want, then I think (Matthews) would listen, although we wouldn’t want to take advantage of that,” Brennen said.

For example, Kaylah said former Student Body President Carlos Williams got the school to allow members of student council to be recognized by wearing distinctive cords at graduation. When it comes to future change, Kaylah mentioned the idea of creating a Sadie Hawkins dance. Meg thought it would make for a good fundraiser.

But Kaylah also talked about trying to reduce student parking fees.

“It’s $60 whether at the beginning of the (school) year or in the middle,” she said. “At other schools, it can be as low as $20 and gets cheaper if you want a parking space later in the year.”

Kaylah said they and their fellow student council members participated in breakout sessions at the exchange on topics such as fundraising and student engagement. Brooke was unable to attend the exchange herself, but was happy Meg and Tyshawn got to go.

“They were giving us ideas on how to make things better,” Meg said.

Tyshawn said the exchange wasn’t just about how to do things.

“It was about how to be a better leader, how to speak to others and make their day better,” he said.

Kaylah said members of student council see themselves as “servant leaders” not just in school, but in the community.

Brooke said serving on council has opened doors for her, allowing her to work with other school-related groups such as CHS’ school improvement council and Kershaw County School District Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan’s student cabinet.

Meg said she has made friends she otherwise wouldn’t have.

“I’ve gotten to be friends with our upperclassmen and they’ve helped me,” she said.

Brennen said council is made up of an elite group of students.

“Not everyone can be on council,” she said. “They have to be elected, so they have to take it seriously. They’ve worked really hard; they’ve earned their positions.”

As an individual, Kaylah won the SCC’s James Francis Byrnes Society of Student Leaders Award. The award is named after South Carolina’s 104th governor, who served from 1951 to 1955. Byrnes was also a U.S. representative, U.S. senator, U.S. Supreme Court justice and U.S. Secretary of State.

The CHS Council as a whole -- which has 35-40 members -- also won the Outstanding Project in School Service and Outstanding Project in School Recognition awards.

The service award recognized council’s work with athletes.

“We helped with a wrestling team fundraiser and helped the track team by getting them snacks and bought breakfast and lunch for coaches,” Kaylah said.

The recognition award rewarded the CHS council for its Bulldog of the Month recognition of a different CHS staff member each month.

“We pick a person who we really feel helps the school,” Kaylah said. “This month (April), we chose Lester Tucker who works on our baseball and other fields.”

Brooke said Tucker does “anything that’s needed.” Council presented him with a certificate, gift card and mentioned him on WDOG, the school’s media channel.

So, why did Brooke, Kaylah, Meg and Tyshawn decide to join council in the first place?

Meg said when she came on campus for the first time, she was talking with some older friends who said she should be a part of council.

“It turned out to be a lot of fun,” she said.

Later, Meg urged incoming freshmen for the 2018 school year to join up.

“You have to jump in, and if you do, you’ll see how it is,” Meg said.

Tyshawn, who said his nickname since 7th Grade has been “Mr. President,” said he started campaigning back at Camden Middle School.

“I’ve always liked stuff like this -- trying to reach accomplishments,” he said.

Kaylah’s brother was CHS class president two years ago.

“I saw how much fun he was having. I’m also in leadership at my church, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ And I like being around Ms. Brennen,” said said.

Brooke moved to Camden in 8th Grade, but had taken on leadership roles at her previous schools.

“I joined (council) as a freshmen and fell in love with it,” she said. “I loved United Way of Kershaw County week and wanted to get super involved.”

Kaylah said she will miss being the “face” of the school. She plans to attend Winthrop University in the fall.

“Having administrators come to me and ask me about things -- it feels good,” she said.

Brooke is graduating, too, and will enter the USC Honors College.

“Being on student council has opened up a lot of doors,” she said.

While Meg and Tyshawn will be moving into their sophomore year at CHS, Tyshawn said he already knows where he wants to go to school: USC.

“I want to study business administration and intellectual property and corporate law,” he declared.

Meg said she will likely attend a smaller school, such as Presbyterian College where her brother is a student.

(The online version of this article has been updated to correctly identify Kaylah Haney and Brooke Galdeen's roles on the Camden High School Student Council.)

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