Dec. 21, 2017 -- Elementary students have many different opportunities to practice their leadership skills. Some do it through their academics, some by serving on Student Council, others in their school’s music department. At Noble Elementary, fifth grade girls have the chance to lead while they cheer.
The Noble Cheer Team is made up of 16 fifth graders, who meet with advisor Teresa Ware twice each month to learn cheers, prepare for performances, and talk about all it takes to be a young girl in today’s society.
“Fifth grade is a really important year,” said Ms. Ware. “I’ve seen kids who’ve made good choices from kindergarten through fourth who suddenly make a change in fifth and go down the wrong path.”
Participation on the Cheer Team, which is dependent on good behavior and hard work, serves as strong motivation to the girls. “This is a privilege,” said team member Gi’onne Sutton. “You have to earn it with your behavior.”
That was intentional on Ms. Ware’s part. “I really wanted the kids to have an opportunity to be acknowledged and celebrated for their positive choices,” she said. She feels like there are many programs in our schools designed to prevent or remediate bad behavior, but there are fewer designed solely to celebrate good behavior. “I wanted them to have a reason to stay positive.”
The group focuses on issues beyond just cheerleading, including peer pressure, self-esteem and how to stick with a commitment. The commitment aspect runs through the entire program. Interested students have to submit an application in the fall that includes two teacher signatures and a parent signature to vouch for the girls’ responsibility and willingness to commit to the club. “They’re making sacrifices too,” said Ms. Ware. “Especially when we’re preparing for a presentation, these girls have to give up the little free time they have by rehearsing during their lunch and recess.”
“It’s worth it,” said Gi’onne. “We might be missing recess but it’s like recess because we’re in here with our friends.”
The team performs at school-wide events, such as assemblies, and also for district events. This fall, the principals from all the district’s elementary schools had a meeting at Noble and the team was asked to cheer. At their assigned time, the girls marched into the library just outside the open door to the room where the principals were meeting. They stood silently waiting for the principals to come out, but after several minutes, Ms. Ware went in to see if they were coming. “My girls were so quiet, they didn't even know we were there!”
About half the members of the Cheer Team currently participate in the community’s cheerleading program, and all say they want to try out for cheerleading in middle school. Some, like Gi’onne, like cheering “because it’s fun to inspire others and cheerleaders always have a smile on their faces.” Others, like Leahnae White, know that they’re learning valuable life sills. “You’re reaching a goal in life. Like getting over your nervousness about performing in front of others.”
Ramya Williams most appreciates the sisterhood. “Sometimes, I might be mad or upset in class, but then I come here and my friends and Ms. Ware brighten my day.”
The team feels somewhat protective of its bond and is hesitant to let others in. They’ve recently been debating whether or not to admit some additional girls to the team who turned their applications in late. The overwhelming consensus was that those other girls needed to learn to sign up for things on time and not just wait until they see that it’s cool.
Ms. Ware knows that the experience of being on Cheer Team can go far beyond just being fun or cool. One of her students suffers from selective mutism, an anxiety disorder characterized by the inability to speak in social settings such as school, despite being physically able to talk. This child’s former teachers were stunned – and thrilled – to see her performing with the Cheer Team. “This has given her the opportunity to find her hidden voice,” said Ms. Ware. “She can finally express herself.”