GRAHAM, NC (WGHP) — At North Graham Elementary School in Alamance County, there’s a flurry of activity all around.

Kids are busy in the cafeteria and the classrooms. But there’s a sense of something special in the air, especially among the fifth-graders. Assistant principal Mallory Heffelfinger sees it.

“They walk a little taller and have smiles on their face, but they also take ownership of our school building,” she said.

Heffelfinger says she believes it’s because the fifth-grade students have been given a say in some important decisions the school is making through the Student Advisory Council. 

The idea was the brainchild of school counselor Amber Chatman. 

“I like to think of it as we have to talk to the people who are most affected by the decisions that we make,” she says. “And at a school level, the kids are the ones who are most affected by the decisions that we make. So it’s important to hear their voices and to let them know that we are listening to what they are saying and that their voices matter.”

The students have taken the assignment seriously and are already making suggestions for change. Nahla Allen wants to see the number of clubs at the school grow.

“We want to have other clubs than just,  media and drama and stuff like that. We want to have like, pottery modeling, designer photography and stuff like that,” Allen said.

Her classmate Anthony Chigubu has health on his mind, both nutrition and exercise. He has made suggestions that involve both. He thinks it would be good to have like a soccer field and a basketball court.

Some of the suggestions have been eye-openers for the administration.

“We are on the admin side of things in making decisions for our students, but hearing them talk about as fifth graders, they experience lunch last,” says Heffelfinger. “They experience going to our student store last. And so, kind of recognizing things, wow we always do things in and order Kindergarten, first-grade second grade, etcetera and not even understanding from their perspective they are always last in those things. So being able to change our vantage point and make decisions in a way that our students all feel heard and understood and valued in the processes that we are doing here.”

It’s a valuable experience for the students. Allen says being a part of the council means a lot to her.

“I think that the decisions that the administrators make affect us the most,” he says. “So I think it’s nice for us to have a little bit of an opinion in it. Of course, we don’t get to say everything, but it’s important for us to have an opinion,” Chigubu agrees.

While the students’ ideas are good, this council is serving another very important purpose.

“The key part is once they realize they do have a voice, they start to feel more comfortable using their voice. And then it helps with academics. It helps with their social-emotional learning. It helps with everything once they feel comfortable using the voices that they have,” Chatman says.

Because once they become part of a solution, they become invested in the outcome.